Layoffs at City of St. John's, SJSE as municipality faces budget crunch

·3 min read

The City of St. John's is eliminating 16 positions, but details on that and other budget-related crunches won't be revealed for almost another three weeks.

In a media release issued Wednesday, the city says 16.3 full-time positions will be eliminated. Eight people have been given layoff notices but depending on their "bumping rights" may be able to find another position with the city. If those employees qualify for another position, they could bump others out of a job.

"This process will impact other employees and is expected to be concluded before the end of the year," reads the media release.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees said it represents nine of those employees.

CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador president Sherry Hillier told CBC Radio's On The Go those employees work in customer service, city hall's mail room, inspection services, field services, waste collection and park services.

In addition to that, St. John's Sports and Entertainment, which operates Mile One and the convention centre, has axed five full-time positions and laid off a further two full-time positions "due to the uncertainty of when large-scale entertainment events such as hockey, basketball and concerts will return," according to the city.

Hillier said CUPE also represents some workers at those facilities, and in late October seven full-time members were laid off.

"We're well aware of the budget and cutbacks, or lack of at Mile One in regard [to] dealing with the pandemic for COVID reasons, but with the city of St. John's we were not expecting any lay offs," she said.

The 2021 municipal budget will be tabled at the Dec. 7 city council meeting.

Kelly Maguire, a spokesperson for the City of St. John's, told CBC News on Tuesday that no member of city council is available for an interview to discuss the job cuts.

Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada
Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada

In the press release, Coun. Dave Lane, the chair of the finance committee, is quoted as saying, "In order to balance the budget for 2021, council has had to make some difficult decisions to reduce expenses, including staff reductions."

Under Newfoundland and Labrador legislation, municipal governments cannot run a deficit.

"We are facing a significant deficit coming out of 2020 and projecting into 2021 as well as a level of uncertainty that requires prudence in spending and fiscal management. Unfortunately, this results in staff reductions and the exploration of ways to raise non-tax revenue as we strive to balance our budget for next year," says Lane in the press release.

Hillier said some of the job cuts don't make sense, particularly in waste collection and parks services. She said some employers may even be using COVID-19 money saving plans as a "front" to lay off workers.

"Waste collection is not going to change today or two years from now. It's the same amount of waste collection that they're doing daily. Parks services remain the same," she said.

But there is a silver lining for some union members, according to Hillier. As part of their collective bargaining agreement with the city, each affected member has recall rights for the next three years. This means they have the first right for the next three years to be rehired or apply for a new position with the city. Hillier also said CUPE is trying to find new positions for affected workers.

"We're in the midst of trying to work with the employer to see if we can come up with new avenues that we can explore for these workers. It's just such a small percentage. I don't think that much of a budget will be saved by these small amount of layoffs in the city," she said.

"Our servicing representative is working with the local representative, hoping to get in contact with the city of St. John's to see if we can get some resolve, or less lay offs."

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