Hundreds of temporary city workers face layoffs as Winnipeg searches for redeployment options

Ongoing facility closures and the postponement of community programming have left hundreds of staff in the City of Winnipeg's community services department without work, says the city's assistant chief of emergency management.

City hopes to find roles with the province for staff affected by facility closures, postponed programming

The city is hoping to find new roles for as many of the affected staff as possible, said Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman on Wednesday, but he said officials must be 'responsible stewards of tax dollars' in the meantime. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Up to 600 temporary and part-time City of Winnipeg workers will be laid off on Sunday, but city officials say they're working to find ways to keep as many staff as possible on in alternative roles.

Ongoing facility closures and the postponement of community programming have left hundreds of staff in the city's community services department without work, Jay Shaw, the city's assistant chief of emergency management, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Officials are looking for ways to keep staff working in other roles, including conversations with the province to see if there are jobs for them there.

"I think it's clear the province does need help and we want to provide that assistance. And where deployed employees can help that province, that's great," Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said at the Wednesday news conference.

"But in the meantime, we still have to be responsible stewards of tax dollars where services aren't required."

All of the city's recreation and leisure programs and services were suspended on Oct. 30, as COVID-19 cases in Manitoba spiked. City-owned facilities, including gyms, indoor pools and libraries, were also shuttered.

On Wednesday, the city announced all winter recreation programming will also be postponed through to at least January.

Calls to staff to notify them of the layoffs and ask if they're interested in being redeployed started Wednesday, Shaw said. Any staff who can't be redeployed will be temporarily laid off starting Sunday.

Options on the table for redeployment include logistical and administrative functions with the province in the COVID-19 fight, Shaw said, although he didn't provide more specific detail.

The city is also looking at other options, like redeploying staff to work with non-governmental organizations such as Winnipeg Harvest, where Shaw estimated roughly 20 to 50 workers were sent in the spring.

But it's unlikely all affected workers will be transitioned into new roles.

"I think it would be fair to say that not all 600 are going to be able to move over to the province," Shaw said. "But we do want to be able to make that offer and try and help out as much as possible."

Contactless services resume at some libraries

Laid-off workers will have access to mental health supports, Shaw said.

Staff who were already receiving a regular employment insurance benefits will be part of a new, supplementary unemployment benefit plan arranged with the federal government, he added, which will include four weeks of weekly top ups worth 75 per cent of their regular gross weekly salary.

It's not clear when redeployed staff would begin their work in new roles. If jobs don't become apparent for them by Sunday, Bowman said it's possible they could still be redeployed later on.

"It's a lot of what-ifs at this stage," Bowman said. "But there's always the potential that if employees indicate their openness to being redeployed by the province and the province lets us know at a later date, there could be a gap … between Sunday and whenever they potentially get redeployed with the province."

Some library workers who would otherwise have been laid off will be able to keep working, Bowman said, since the city announced Wednesday it will resume some services at certain branches.

Contactless pickup for items on hold and return services will be available at 10 library branches across the city starting Dec. 7.

The move follows feedback from many Winnipeggers who wanted access to library services, said Shaw.

"People are passionate about their community services and their libraries," he said. "As soon as we could figure out a way to do it in conjunction with the public health orders, and make sure it was as safe as possible through contactless pickup … we were green, go for launch, and we wanted to be able to provide that service to our residents."

The branches that will offer contactless services are:

  • Charleswood.
  • River Heights.
  • St. Boniface.
  • Pembina Trail.
  • Henderson.
  • St. James.
  • Millennium.
  • Louis Riel.
  • Transcona.
  • Sir William Stephenson.

The branches will serve the public on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The public will not be permitted to go inside the libraries. Staff and patrons are required to wear masks, and customers who are picking up holds should use a self-assessment checklist before arriving.

You can place books on hold using the library's online catalogue or mobile app. You can also ask library staff for help through the Winnipeg Public Library's Ask Us service.