Highway workers, school bus drivers and paramedics gathered in Fredericton to send a message to New Brunswick’s transportation minister: It’s time to overhaul the province’s “snow-fighter program.”
“The stress level is through the roof for operators, they’re out in the worst conditions of winter,” explained Andrew Hardy, the president of CUPE Local 1190.
CUPE, the union representing the unionized workers at the rally says last week’s weather bomb gave front-line workers and citizens a clear picture of the difficulties facing the province’s winter maintenance program.
“I put a message out to my bus drivers, that if you come upon a road, you invoke your right to refuse and you do not go down that road,” explained Brien Watson, the provincial president of CUPE 1253, the union representing bus drivers across the province.
According to union officials, there are three major issues that need immediate attention.
- The 11p.m.- 4a.m. department shutdown which forces plow operators to stop operations at night.
- The 7-centimetre snow restrictions that are in place which means plows only hit the roads once 7 cm of snow has fallen.
- The salt and sand directive for districts which the union says fails to take into account provincial weather patterns.
“Our divisions operate with no spares, and people need to take sleep breaks,” explained Hardy. “I would like the minister to look at these and work with us and try to make some changes in these areas to improve the highway system.”
Their wants are simple; start reversing cuts and add more people and trucks to the fleet — something the transportation minister says is considering.
“We’re investing more money in capital, we’re investing more money in infrastructure and we’re investing more money in winter maintenance. We’re working collaboratively with the union membership with our front-line workers,” explained Transportation Minister Bill Fraser.
Conservative MLA Jeff Carr says he’d like to see the province address highway concerns sooner rather than later.
CUPE has also re-launched its “bad road hotline” for tracking road conditions.
The public is also being asked to share pictures and driving stories on social media with the hashtag #badroadsNB in an effort to have their stories heard by provincial politicians.