Manitoba

Nearly 700 City of Winnipeg workers receive layoff notices

Some staff at the City of Winnipeg are receiving layoff notices as the response to the COVID-19 emergency continues.

Closure of recreation centres, pools, arenas, and libraries led to job cuts

The City of Winnipeg has closed all of its recreation centres, pools, arenas, and libraries because of the COVID-19 health emergency. 'We cannot continue to pay employees' salaries while facilities remain closed and community programs are not available,' the city said in a news release Wednesday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Hundreds of City of Winnipeg workers have been sent a letter telling them they have been laid off, as the city continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city said Wednesday that 674 non-permanent staff have been told the temporary layoff begins on April 25. The cutbacks come after the city closed all of its recreation centres, pools, arenas, and libraries last month because of the health emergency.

The letters went out just a day after Mayor Brian Bowman told reporters "the prospect of layoffs … has obviously grown and we will have more to say about that, sooner than later."

CBC News was provided a copy of a letter sent to some staff. It says the layoffs are not a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the workers, but the growing pressure from the health emergency.

"As a result of insufficient available work, many of you have been home since March 16," the letter read.

"While every effort has been made to maintain your employment for as long as financially and operationally feasible, the city has now reached a point where temporary layoffs are necessary."

Bowman says he was told of the decision by the city's interim chief administrative officer, Mike Ruta, on Wednesday morning. He describes it as "heartbreaking," but couldn't predict when the workers might be called back.

"The sooner the better," Bowman said.

A release from the City of Winnipeg says "while we want to support our employees, we also need to ensure we are being responsible with taxpayers' money. We cannot continue to pay employees' salaries while facilities remain closed and community programs are not available."

The city will save approximately $1 million a month from the layoffs.

Ruta told reporters Wednesday afternoon it's also possible that some permanent staff could be laid off.

"At this time, we are keeping all options available to us open," Ruta said. 

CUPE 500 president Gord Delbridge says laid-off city workers could instead be reassigned to fill potholes, clean lanes or do other work. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The head of the union representing many of the affected workers says the layoffs were the wrong move by the city, arguing the staff should be reassigned to other jobs.

"Let's take care of our infrastructure deficit," said Gord Delbridge, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500.

"Our streets are a mess — our lanes are a mess. There's work that needs to be done. The streets aren't busy — they could be filling potholes."

Delbridge says the city and the province should be working together to start fixing up the city, including giving the city room to borrow money by changing legislation to allow the city to run a deficit.

"Now is the time that we should be trying to stabilize our economy, keep people working," he said.

"Let's make sure that we are not going to be in a hole that we can't get out of. But if we think that we can try doing that through austerity measures, we know that isn't going to work."

Bowman told reporters there is a possibility the city could get financial assistance from the other levels of government.

"Yes, there is dialogue and yes, there is hope. The hope and expectation is greater from the federal government, to be candid," he said.

"We haven't received any indication, at this time, that relief will be provided by the provincial government."

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The news release from the city says staff who are temporarily laid off will have access to mental health supports, and for those who qualify for employment insurance benefits, the city has registered a supplementary unemployment benefit plan with the government of Canada.

The benefit plan will provide a top-up to 75 per cent of their regular gross weekly salary, for a period of four weeks, while workers are on temporary layoff.

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