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City of Edmonton lays off nearly 900 workers amid COVID-19 budget shortfalls

City of Edmonton laying off 900 more employees, freezing new hires
WATCH ABOVE: An emotional interim city manager Adam Laughlin said the City of Edmonton is freezing all job openings, not hiring seasonal summer staff workers, laying off 900 more employees — about half being transit operators — and offering voluntary layoffs for those who aren't comfortable working during the pandemic.

In an effort to balance a challenging budget amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the City of Edmonton issued two-week layoff notices to nearly 900 workers on Monday.

“We must cut back, and today we are,” interim city manager Adam Laughlin said.

About half the layoffs were in the transit sector as the city has seen a reduction in transit services. Other people who have been laid off include staff in the community liaison, administrative support, human resources, technology, training and data analytics areas.

READ MORE: EEDC announces more layoffs, pay cuts and senior leadership departures amid COVID-19 crisis

Both Laughlin and Mayor Don Iveson stressed the move was a temporary measure in an effort to save money amid the pandemic shortfall.

Laughlin said the city is facing a $168-million shortfall by mid-September.

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“We’re making hard decisions about how to manage the city in a sustainable and responsible way,” he said Monday, holding back tears.

City of Edmonton interim manager on difficult decision to lay off more staff
City of Edmonton interim manager on difficult decision to lay off more staff

Those who received notices on Monday will be able to volunteer for a redeployment program. The city will not be hiring new seasonal staff for things like summer maintenance, instead, those who received notices can volunteer to fill those spots if they have skills that would transfer.

The city is also introducing a voluntary layoff option for those staff members who may want to temporarily leave their role during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Laughlin said that program will not change the number of layoffs, but it may bring in changes for those being considered for a temporary layoff. Only staff who are doing the same work as those who may be laid off are eligible to apply, he said.

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Laid off City of Edmonton employees given two weeks notice
Laid off City of Edmonton employees given two weeks notice

With city facilities closed and things like bus fares and parking fees waived in an effort to lessen the financial burden on Edmontonians, the city has seen a major hit to money coming in.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Edmonton closes sports fields, courts to meet physical distancing rules

Iveson has previously said he didn’t want to hike residents’ taxes to keep the city out of the red, and that temporary layoffs would allow the city to balance the budget.

“I’ve got about 1,000 hugs I want to give to our staff, to Adam, to his team, but we’re not allowed to that right now,” he said Monday.

READ MORE: City of Edmonton expands state of emergency; bans garage sales

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At the end of March, the city laid off more than 2,000 staff members after extended closures were put in place to halt the spread of COVID-19. Those layoffs came from both the city and the library. At the time, Laughlin stressed those layoffs were temporary.

Laughlin said it was expected those people would be able to access up to 75 per cent of their salary under employment insurance, but the federal government began filtering everyone to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit instead. That program offers a flat rate of $2,000 a month, with an option for a top up of $1,000.

READ MORE: Edmonton traffic down 50%, pothole work and street sweeping underway with COVID-19 adjustments

For many of their employees, that number doesn’t reach the number the city told the thousands of employees they’d be able to access.

As such, Iveson is calling on the federal government to launch a program for municipalities that increases that top-up number.

“The least the federal government could do would be to allow us voluntarily to support our staff without clawing back their emergency relief benefits against the city’s top up.”

Edmonton mayor calls on Ottawa to boost wage subsidy program
Edmonton mayor calls on Ottawa to boost wage subsidy program

On Monday evening, one of the unions representing some of the workers impacted by the layoffs issued a statement that said it was “disappointed with the city’s announcement.”

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“Our skilled and hard-working seasonal workers possess unique training and credentials that allow them to complete their work safely and efficiently,” CUPE Local 30 said. “Our members work hard every year to provide exceptional services to the citizens of Edmonton and we believe that these seasonal workers are an important and integral part of city operations and our union.

“We will continue to work with the city to address the needs of our members, including pushing for reductions in management levels.”

CUPE also said it would lobby the federal government to allow for CERB top-up payments.

On top of the layoffs, Iveson said the mayor and council offices would be reducing their expenditures by an additional $695,000, which is about 10 per cent of the council and mayor’s office discretionary budgets, in an attempt to save money.

City councillors to vote on cutting property taxes Wednesday

Iveson put forward a motion that was later passed that calls for the city’s administration to prepare two versions of the tax requisition bylaws for this Wednesday’s council meeting, in an effort to lower the previously approved 2.08 per cent tax increase for 2020 to accommodate citizens and business that are struggling during the pandemic.

At that meeting, councillors will vote on the two options they will be presented with.

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The first option would see residential and non-residential ratepayers have their tax increases reduced to 1.3 per cent each.

The second option would see residential ratepayers have a 0 per cent tax increase and a tax decrease for non-residential ratepayers. This option would require city council to use the portion of taxes it collects for the provincial education budget to offset the decreased property taxes it would collect.

“We happen to have some unprecedented education tax relief available that allows us to do that on a one-time basis,” Iveson said.

“Under these circumstances, half of businesses in Edmonton are uncertain whether they will reopen [after the COVID-19 crisis recedes]. This is one way we could get to zero for them, but without pretending that we don’t still have the expenditures and they have to come from somewhere.”

–With files from 630 CHED’s Scott Johnston and Global News’ Phil Heidenreich

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