Jobs for more than 800 HECFI staff still uncertain

There's still uncertainty among the more than 800 staff about what will happen to their jobs when Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. (HECFI) changes hands, which could happen a month ahead of schedule this spring.

Hamilton Place, Copps Coliseum and convention centre could change hands by March 1

More than 800 employees face uncertain futures as HECFI prepares to hand over its three properties to private operators. The switch could happen as soon as March 1. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

There's still uncertainty among HECFI's more than 800 staff over what will happen to their jobs when Copps Coliseum, Hamilton Place and the convention centre change hands, a move that could happen as soon as March 1.

Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. has 52 full-time and about 800 part-time employees. All are nervous about their futures as the city negotiates with private operators to take over HECFI's three facilities, CEO John Hertel said on Monday.

Global Spectrum will take over Copps Coliseum and Hamilton Place. Carmen's Inc. will take over the convention centre.

HECFI has been holding workshops and meetings, distributing newsletters and having "Coffee with John" sessions to keep staff informed, Hertel said during an information session at city hall. The session meant to be a HECFI board of directors meeting, but that was cancelled due to the lack of quorum.

It's been a challenging time for employees, Hertel said.

"Even if it looks like that job in that venue must go on, you still have no confirmation you're going to be the person in it," he said after the session.

HECFI has many long-time employees who have spent the bulk of their careers there, and "they're at a significant period of uncertainty."

"We're just trying to communicate as frequently as we can and share information as we learn it as quickly as we can."

$900,000 shortfall in 2012

Council voted last year to hand operation of HECFI's properties to private operators. The move was sparked by a 2010 budget shortfall that resulted in a subsidy from taxpayers of about $2 million over and above the usual city subsidy of about $2.8 million each year.

That shortfall has shrunk each year since 2010, Hertel said. It shrank by $1.2 million in 2011 and another $900,000 in 2012, bringing the budget back to 2009 levels. That does not include the roughly $400,000 the city contributed through administrative support in 2012.

HECFI employees range from entertainment bookers to ushers and ticket takers. They have continued to work hard, booking top-shelf acts such as Lady Gaga and The Who.

"The way we've approached it from the beginning, we've referred to our legacy," Hertel said. "As soon as they made the announcement, (we could have) put our heads in the sand and saw HECFI crumble.

"Nobody wants that. Everybody's been incredibly strong and proud of what they've done."  

Negotiations for the hand-over are continuing at a careful pace, Hertel said during the session. Mayor Bob Bratina said that was wise.

"We're only doing this once, so we might as well do it right."