Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Taking the day off from work today to count the snow flakes

It's Snow Plow Appreciation Day. No, really.

Gov. Jim Doyle proclaimed Wednesday as Snowplow Driver Appreciation Day. The day is meant to remind motorists, before any measurable snow has fallen, of the important role the state's snowplow drivers play in keeping streets safe.

Let's all remember how important it is to have them out there when nature sends its worst.

When a blizzard hit Milwaukee on Good Friday, 39 city snowplow drivers didn't answer their pagers, city officials said Wednesday.

The city Department of Public Works was still able to staff its plows with more than 150 regular drivers and to call in other employees to fill vacancies, Public Works Commissioner Jeff Mantes said.

But the shortage of regular drivers was a major factor in delaying the plowing of residential side streets, said Jim Purko, public works operations director. Some side streets were not plowed for three or four hours, he said.

News of the no-shows drew anger from one alderman and triggered talks with city unions about new rules to deal with the situation. It also revealed tensions among public works employees who are represented by three different unions.

In a letter to top city officials, public works employee John Lindquist, a member of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139, referred to fellow workers who didn't show up as "the sick, lame and lazy list."

On Wednesday, Lindquist told the Common Council's Public Works Committee, "If you don't want to come in, get a different job. That's the way I look at it."

"That's the way I look at it, too," responded Ald. Joe Dudzik, a former plow driver on leave from the Public Works Department. "The city was basically grinding to a halt. . . . I've had plenty of days where my tail was dragging and I didn't want to come to work . . . but more importantly, I understood it was my job."