CUPE had no say on city layoffs since ‘entire divisions’ affected: HR manager  

By Kirk Winter

Farm country, Canadian Shield…anything but “cottage country”

When Kawartha Lakes announced the layoff of 213 part-time, seasonal and temporary workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city did not consult with their union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), on who would be laid off.

According to Liana Patterson, manager of human resources, she says that’s because CUPE “did not have any input on the layoffs because entire divisions of workers were unable to work and as a result, the entire group was laid off.”

Patterson says the city has “a working relationship with the union” and they do communicate “significant decisions such as layoffs in advance.”

CUPE 855 president Lyn Edwards says in an email that “the union and the employer are in discussions to achieve the best way forward for the community, the employees and the city.”

Patterson notes that both she and Edwards have “spoken regularly during this difficult time to ensure as much notice and preparation as possible.”

The HR manager noted the city employees who were laid off were, “employees whose work was impacted directly by the pandemic.”

The majority of the workers were part-time arena, fitness, aquatics, crossing guards and library workers.

On the issue of the length of the layoffs and whether the city is committed to bringing back all the employees who were laid off, Patterson notes the layoffs are temporary and, hopefully, short-term.

“No return dates have been provided until we are notified further by the province and health authorities as to when restrictions will begin to be lifted.”

The City maintains an employment relationship with those on temporary layoff, she tells the Advocate, and says she hopes to see services return to pre-pandemic levels, with all staff recalled.

“However, there remains much uncertainty regarding timelines and how we begin to phase in services.”

With other municipalities like Vancouver and Calgary providing cash payouts to laid-off staff, making the transition to some kind of COVID assistance plan more palatable, Patterson was asked what the city is doing in this regard.

“Most employees were paid for three additional weeks following the last day worked. Based on the information on the Service Canada website and early reports from staff, employees qualify, or soon will qualify, for CERB benefits,” says Patterson.

The Advocate asked if there was any attempt to avoid some of the layoffs by redeploying workers into temporary positions elsewhere, as surrounding municipalities like Simcoe and Bruce had done.

“We have not yet had the need to redeploy staff in any significant manner… the provincial restrictions start to lessen, we will be able to assign workers to the activities which require the next level of immediate attention,” she says.

The Advocate also asked if workers who were laid off were told by managers not to talk to the media regarding the downsizing.

“We have a policy which outlines which staff are designated media spokespersons. (They are) the communications staff, the mayor, the CAO and the directors who are best positioned to speak to the media. We do not have any processes which prohibit an individual speaking for themselves to the media with their own personal opinion. We have processes which allow employees to speak directly to management. We hope that employees feel able to approach the employer and give us feedback on the decisions we make so they can address the concerns we have,” says Patterson.

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