EDMONTON — The City of Edmonton announced it will lay off all non-essential staff, including recreation centre and library staff, as it grapples with the new reality caused by COVID-19.
The temporary layoffs start on April 14 and affect 1,600 workers in the city’s recreation department and another nearly 500 staff members in libraries.
“For quite some time we’ve talked about how COVID-19 is taking a terrible toll on our city, our public health, city services and the economy,” said Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin, who was visibly overcome with emotion during a Monday news conference. “Today it is having an impact on the jobs of 1,600 people.”
The city served the temporary layoff notices to staff Monday morning working in rec centres and public spaces, Laughlin said.
“These are full-time and part-time cashiers, fitness instructors, lifeguards, art and education instructors, arena attendants, city hall tour guides, labourers and booking clerks.”
The city made the move “promptly” to take advantage of assistance from the provincial and federal governments, he said.
The city will supplement that assistance for eight or 16 weeks depending on employee status.
It means workers will receive about 75 per cent of regular pay during the layoff and keep their benefits and access to mental health supports.
“The dollars we spend come from Edmonton taxpayers and we simply cannot sustain full salaries for longer,” said Laughlin, adding that cities cannot run a deficit like their provincial and federal counterparts.
LIBRARY LAYS OFF 489 JOBS
The same thing is happening at Edmonton Public Libraries. On Monday, CEO Pilar Martinez said closures had resulted in a “drastic reduction” of services.
“As a result, we have had to make the very difficult decision to initiate temporary layoffs,” she said. “I would like to emphasize I am incredibly proud of every single staff member’s contributions to the Edmonton Public Library, and the impact they make each and every day.”
She said the layoffs will affect about 75 per cent, or 489 positions, in Edmonton Public Libraries, but affected employees will also retain 75 per cent of their salaries as well as benefits.
Not all recreation facility staff will be laid off, however. Programs like cemetery services, animal care at the zoo and plant care at the Muttart Observatory will continue, Laughlin said, while some workers have been redeployed to other departments.
“I want to be clear. This is a reflection of an economic and public health reality. It is not a reflection of our staff or the valuable programs they deliver,” he said.
City facilities, rec centres and libraries were closed more than two weeks ago.
He said the city still doesn’t know when it might hire back the laid off workers because the COVID-19 crisis continues to change day-by-day. He also couldn’t say whether there would be further layoffs.
Every Canadian losing money because of the pandemic is eligible for the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit, while others who qualify can receive enhanced employment insurance.
In Alberta, applications are open for the province’s self-isolation support program, which offers one-time payments of $1,146.