Staff cuts to libraries, recreation services in Winnipeg budget alarming: union leader, activist
Community services lost equivalent of 19 positions due to recruitment and retention
The City of Winnipeg's largest union is concerned about job cuts in libraries and recreation services in the latest budget.
Gord Delbridge, the president of CUPE 500, said the city's use of vacancy management — deliberately leaving positions unfilled to control costs — would put more strain on city services.
"We see cuts in community services, primarily libraries and recreational services, and that's a concern for Winnipeggers," he said.
In the 2023 preliminary budget released on Wednesday, recreation lost a total of 14 full-time equivalent staff, while libraries lost 11.
The chair of the community services committee John Orlikow said four of those positions were due to the closure of Cindy Klassen Pool, which is undergoing renovations, while six library positions were reclassified.
But the budget notes that the community services department lost a total of more than 19 full-time equivalent positions "due to recruitment and retention issues," including five in libraries and 10 in recreation.
Training costs for lifeguards
Part of the problems stems from ongoing difficulties hiring lifeguards, Orlikow said.
"So bottom line is, we don't have enough lifeguards as it is. We can't fill them," he said.
"So once we get those lifeguards, those [full time equivalent positions] will come back."
The high costs of training to become a lifeguard have been part of the problem, Orlikow said. Last year, the city offered a program that would pay for training, which Orlikow said received a good response.
"We got all the applicants we needed. So that's going to take some time to run through before they're ready to go," Orlikow said.
He did not have an explanation for why the city is having difficulty attracting librarians.
"I'm not exactly sure what that is, and that's another strategy I'm waiting to hear from the community services on how we're going to attract more, you know, librarians and what type of librarians are we attracting," he said.
Make jobs more attractive: CUPE
The head of the union said the city needs to do more to make itself attractive to job applicants.
"The city has to step up," Delbridge said.
"As the citizens are seeing an increase in taxes, which everyone should be expecting, I think the citizens of Winnipeg are going to want to see an increase or at least maintaining service levels on a going forward basis."
Josh Brandon with the Social Planning Council said he's alarmed to see cuts to essential city services.
"People here, especially lower-income people, people that we work with, really depend on city facilities for access to resources, to the library, access to recreation in our parks," he said.
"If the city is having difficulty hiring in those areas, it really does need to look at its hiring practices, whether its salaries are competitive enough … but we shouldn't be simply cutting positions because we've been unsuccessful at recruiting sufficient staff."
The city announced its likely largest-ever budget shortfall last year, and expects it will have to dip into its fiscal stabilization fund again to balance the budget this year.
Delbridge said he plans to meet with the city in the coming weeks to propose recommendations on what it can do to improve staffing.
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