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Union leaders confused by third round of Edmonton layoffs as rec centres allowed to reopen

Clareview Rec Centre in Edmonton, March 30, 2020.
Clareview Rec Centre in Edmonton, March 30, 2020. Wes Rosa, Global News

A third round of temporary layoffs has hit the City of Edmonton just as the province announced the reopening of the very facilities that were closed because of COVID-19. The heads of the unions that staff rec centres and other facilities say they are looking for answers.

Some 60 employees were notified Monday via letters and emails. Lanny Chudyk who heads up CSU 52, told Global News that last Friday they met with the city, and with their counterparts from CUPE Local 30 to talk about the future of the rec centres.

“We were going to relaunch rec facilities,” Chudyk said. “In fact we have scheduled a meeting for this coming Thursday with the city, CUPE Local 30 and CSU 52 to discuss how that relaunch would work. So I was quite surprised to see 29 CSU staff members laid off. A good number of those — over half of them — in rec facilities.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Gyms, pools, indoor fitness can open June 12 for Stage 2 of Alberta relaunch

Shortly after the province announced details of the relaunch the City of Edmonton said in a news release that officials were still reviewing the circumstances of a reopening, while looking at public health and safety concerns as well as the state of the city finances.

John Mervyn, the president of CUPE Local 30 said the social distancing requirements put in place by Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health leaves doubt in his mind how viable the rec centres can be.

“That two metre distance is still going to apply,” Mervyn told Global News. “It means that things aren’t going to be going back to full operation. There will be limitations on what the city can and can’t do in bringing people into our rec centres and into the gymnasiums and arenas”

READ MORE: Edmonton lays off over 2,000 staff at city rec centres, public libraries due to COVID-19

With what was done Monday, the additional nine layoffs for CUPE brings them to almost 900 during the pandemic, and the 29 for CSU has them nearing 1,000.

“My members are finding it difficult and stressful,” Mervyn said. “They are at home. This is typically the time of year they would be calling back a lot of seasonal employees and these members aren’t being called back, so they are all on EI or CERB trying to find ways to make their ends meet. The same as everybody else during this crisis.”

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It’s prompted Chudyk to wonder why employees have been hit hard, yet middle managers haven’t. “There isn’t much left to manage, but there’s almost a full compliment of management staff still working.”

“We have filed grievances or the intent to file grievances in some areas where we’ve had members laid off, and then a manager has been appointed to do the work the member was doing. To me that doesn’t make financial sense. I mean the manager makes more money that the unionized employee.”

“If you’re laying off unionized employees and the manager has time to do the union work what’s the manager doing in his location?”

The city continues to bleed money, partly because of a lack of ridership on Edmonton Transit and the rec centre closures. ETS will resume collecting fares on Monday, however forecasts from the city on having ridership return to normal calculates it could be a couple of years before that happens.

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

Chudyk said his members question the mixed messages they’re getting from city council.

“Last week they [city council] spent a whole day arguing about are we going west, are we going south, or are we gonna go north with more spending on LRT? [They’re] repurposing roadways to share usage — when you drive by most of those roadways and there isn’t anybody on the sidewalk, so why are we repurposing roadways?
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“There seems to be a lot of spending that is being done on things that could sit right now until we get through this economic crisis.

“My membership certainly don’t mind bearing their share here but when they see some of the spending, council continues to go forward — two to two-and-a-half million on new signage for speed zones? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to them.”

This latest round of layoffs was the smallest in terms of numbers. Sixteen-hundred were let go at the end of March, while another 900 were sent lay off notices in late April, rroughly 450 of them with ETS. Steve Bradshaw with the Amalgamated Transit Union said that layoff situation is “starting to turn around.”