City contract includes snow removal plan

NASHUA – A plan to mobilize a large contingent of plow drivers during snowstorms is included in the new contract between City Hall and the drivers who push the stuff out of the way.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO Local 365, will receive a 13 percent salary increase during the four-year life of the contract.

The Board of Aldermen approved the contract Tuesday night without any objections.

Roger Lavoie, the union president, said the contract was a long time coming.

“Everybody was really looking forward to this (ending),” said Lavoie, who called the labor agreement fair.

The last contract expired in June 2002. During the talks, negotiations stalled and then a four-hour mediation session was fruitless.

The union filed for a fact-finding look at the positions of the two sides, but an agreement was reached before it got to that stage, said Lavoie, a mason/pipe layer for the Street Department.

The union represents custodial workers at the Nashua School District, Nashua Transit Authority employees and other public works employees. Some 250 workers are affiliated with the labor union.

The yearly increases are spread out: 3 percent paid retroactively; 3 percent this year; 3 percent in fiscal year 2005, and 4 percent in fiscal year 2006.

The snow-related addition was a key change for the division, according to Division of Public Works administrators.

The city needs to have a consistent staff to handle the storms, said Scott Pollock, deputy director of the Street Department.

The Street Department divides the 300 miles of roads in the city by 40 routes. The goal is to keep snow to a maximum of 3 inches on a road when a storm delivers snow at a rate of 1-inch an hour.

The new contract mandates that new employees will be available to work snowstorms. Until there are enough new workers, the division will continue to utilize a volunteer sign-up list.

The division will enlarge the pool of volunteers up to 76, and the drivers will be on call for a week at a time, not on a storm-by-storm basis, Pollock said. The volunteers will include the school custodial staff, the city’s transit authority and retired workers.

The workers on call will receive an additional $100 a week for carrying the beeper on top of any overtime worked, according to the contract.

The new snow-removal system will cost a maximum of $152,000 to implement. The department will use the system for 20 weeks, starting annually on the second Friday in November.

A plan in the winter of 2001 relied on a volunteer system with initially 12 drivers to carry beepers. Other drivers would be recruited when a snowstorm was forecasted. Workers got a bonus for carrying the beepers.

The pilot program only lasted one year because the turnout for smaller storms was less than desired, Pollock said.

In response to a shortfall, Pollock said, the new contract allows him to shift work crews to get more people behind the wheel.

The most senior drivers can volunteer to drive without a “shotgun” driver and earn more money, he said.

The shotgun driver used to be responsible for manually raising and lowering the plow that hangs on the side of the truck. It is now controlled electronically, he said.

Pollack said the use of a shotgun driver depends on the route, traffic and width of road, among other considerations.