Matt McLean | CUPE

Like many municipalities, the City of Winnipeg has attempted to contract out work to the private sector, hoping to find “cost savings.” The result has been nothing short of a disaster, and CUPE 500 has been leading the fight for better, publicly owned and operated city services.

For decades Winnipeg has been moving towards a greater reliance on private contractors to clear snow and ice from municipal roads and sidewalks. City plows used to perform the bulk of snow/ice removal, but today 80 per cent of snow clearing is done by private contractors.

As private plowing grows, public dissatisfaction grows with it. The winters of 2013 and 2014 were particularly nasty in Winnipeg, and were made worse by sub-par snow clearing. For weeks at a time local media was fixated on deeply rutted and frozen streets, cars stuck in back lanes, and windrows that made seniors prisoners in their own homes. Members of city council, including the newly elected conservative mayor Brian Bowman publicly mused about moving more snow clearing back in house.

CUPE 500, representing Winnipeg civic employees, has a strong public profile in Winnipeg built over decades of active participation in public debates around city services. After receiving numerous phone calls from the public about issues with private snow clearing contractors, the local established a hotline, a website, and ran advertisements asking for people to call in with their stories. The results were overwhelming.

In only two months over 400 Winnipeggers called or wrote in to tell their stories. Over 70 per cent of those who contacted CUPE were dissatisfied with snow clearing in Winnipeg, and wanted plowing brought back under public control.

CUPE 500 publicly presented its Public Plowing Works report, and commissioned the former Chief Operating Officer of Winnipeg’s fleet services to present a comprehensive plan to bring both snow clearing and road construction work back in house. While the city is deeply resistant to change, the local is forcing administrators to face tough questions about their broken system, and has put politicians on the hot seat. They know that so long as it snows, this issue isn’t going away. And neither will CUPE.