EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 24, 2012

City dumps costly plow coverage

METHUEN — The Public Works department has dumped the 24-hour snow and ice overtime shifts that cost taxpayers $169,000 last winter in favor of a new system where on-call plow operators will work based on the weather forecast.

The change comes after The Eagle-Tribune reported in May that the city staffed three-men DPW crews 24 hours a day, seven days a week from Dec. 17, 2011 to March 10 of this year, despite it being the second warmest winter on record in Massachusetts.

Under that schedule, a group of nine employees each earned 16 hours of overtime every weekend for 13 consecutive weeks. The overtime was earned as just five inches of snow fell in Methuen on Saturdays and Sundays in 2011-2012, according to city records.

Officials said 24-hour winter staffing — and the lucrative weekend overtime shifts in which employees are paid time and a half — had been in place in the city for decades. But that system came to an end earlier this month.

DPW Director Raymond DiFiore said plow crews will now only be called in after normal work hours on an as-needed basis.

"This is a reaction from last year," said DiFiore. "We're going to be monitoring this very closely. We will act appropriately."

Scheduling decisions will be based on forecasts from the city's weather service. DiFiore said only he and Highway Department Superintendent Jay Bonano have the authority to call in workers for after-hours road coverage.

"There will be no overtime shifts without the authorization of myself or my designee," said DiFiore. "That's our plan. ... No more second or third shift unless we deem it necessary."

The schedule change comes after some city councilors called for more on-call or weekend shifts. The new schedule was agreed to by DiFiore, Mayor Stephen Zanni and Michael Gagliardi, business manager of Laborers International Local 175.

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