Bowman says city worker layoffs ‘weighed heavily’ on him

By | April 15, 2020

WINNIPEG — Winnipeg’s mayor called the decision to temporarily lay off hundreds of city workers “heartbreaking.”

On Wednesday, the city announced 674 non-permanent employees were laid off from City of Winnipeg facilities, as a result of the closure of city-owned and operated recreation centres, pools, arenas and libraries and the suspension of programming.

Bowman said they’ve put a lot of effort into trying to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on City of Winnipeg employees by finding ways to redeploy where possible and put off the layoffs for as long as possible.

He said this has weighed heavily on himself, as well as interim CAO Mike Ruta and council members.

“The employees of our public service do incredibly important work on behalf of the citizens that we all serve,” Bowman said.

The mayor said as a government they’ve tried to support their employees, while still being “responsible guardians of taxpayer dollars.”

He noted municipal governments are required by provincial law to balance their budgets.

“Our inability to run deficits combined with our antiquated means of collecting revenues means we have an acute threshold for continuing forward when our revenues dip as significantly as they have,” Bowman said.

The mayor stressed that these are temporary layoffs, saying when it’s safe for people to return to gathering spaces it will be a huge relief to staff to be making calls to tell employees to return to work.

Ruta commented that it is not an easy day and this decision wasn’t made lightly. 

He said the city is committed to maintaining essential services, while balancing the safety and health of employees and residents, noting the city also has to be a responsible trustee of public funds.

“We need to ensure prudent spending of taxpayers’ money,” Ruta said. 

Ruta said they can’t continue to pay employees salaries while city facilities are closed and community programs are unavailable.

“We are now in a position where the 674 non-permanent staff who worked in these facilities will be temporarily laid off,” he said, noting they will be working with employees to help them access federal assistance programs and that the city has registered a supplementary unemployment benefit plan with the government.

“We look forward to welcoming these employees back as soon as it is safe to reopen our facilities and resume programming,” Ruta said. “However with the continually evolving situation we have no indication of when this will occur.

“I want to emphasize that all of our employees provide important services to our city. This decision should not be seen as a reflection on their , alue to the city nor as a reflection on their hard work and dedication to providing important services to our residents.”

Ruta said there is not enough work available to provide alternate work for these employees.

This announcement doesn’t include the permanent staff in community services whose regular positions were impacted by the closure of facilities, as they have been redeployed.

The temporary layoffs will be effective April 25.

– With files from CTV’s Danton Unger

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