WINNIPEG — The head of the union representing City of Winnipeg workers who’ve been laid off as a result of COVID-19 wanted members who are now temporarily out of a job to be redeployed in other areas.
Six hundred seventy-four non-permanent staff members working in city-owned and operated recreation centres, arenas, pools, and libraries will be officially laid off as of April 25, the city announced Wednesday.
The layoffs come after those facilities were closed March 16 due to public health measures aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus.
City of Winnipeg acting chief administrative officer Mike Ruta said Wednesday the move will save the city around $1 million a month.
“Our staff who were employed in these facilities have now been home and without work,” said Ruta. “While we want to support our employees we also need to ensure we are being responsible for taxpayers’ money. We cannot continue to pay employees’ salaries while facilities remain closed and community programs are not available.”
According to city projections, a budget total shortfall of $32.7 million is expected if pandemic restrictions end by April 30, 2020. A $73.2 million shortfall is expected if the pandemic ends on July 31, 2020.
“While every effort has been made to maintain their employment for as long as we operationally and financially can, we are now in a position where the 674 non-permanent staff who worked in these facilities will be temporarily laid off,” said Ruta.
Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500, said he’s been in regular contact to try and find other options, including redeploying workers to do other jobs for the city.
“Prior to COVID, the job of a public servant was to serve the needs of the community and those needs have now switched as a result of COVID,” said Delbridge. “And there is a need for a lot of additional work to take place and we’re confident we can find work for in the course of this pandemic.”
“There’s back lanes that need to be cleaned up, there’s curbs and streets that need to be fixed. We’ve got all kinds of work that needs to take place. There’s cleaning and sanitization that we really need to ramp that up.”
Mayor Brian Bowman told reporters Wednesday the city tried to redeploy staff to the greatest extent possible.
“Today we’re in the heartbreaking position of having to temporarily lay off non-permanent staff,” said Bowman during an update on the city’s COVID-19 response. “The phone calls being made today are the phone calls no one wants to make or receive.”
Both Bowman and Ruta noted around 70 city workers have already been redeployed to work as community ambassadors to help enforce physical distancing and to work at Winnipeg Harvest.
Ruta said redeploying staff laid off Wednesday to other areas, such as street maintenance, would require different levels of expertise and knowledge.
“It would be very difficult to place people in those roles without extensive training,” said Ruta.
The city hasn’t ruled out more layoffs but so far no other announcements have been made.
“This is a decision that’s been made today,” said Bowman. “When and if decisions are made going forward, we’ll let you know.”
– With files from CTV’s Danton Unger and Kayla Rosen
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