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

WATCH ABOVE: An emotional interim city manager Adam Laughlin announces of the 2,000 staff members in the community and recreation branch, 1,600 employees of rec centres and other public places will be laid off on April 14.

The City of Edmonton’s Community and Recreation branch and Edmonton Public Library issued more than 2,000 layoff notices to employees Monday morning after extended closures were put in place to halt the spread of COVID-19.

The city announced 1,600 of its employees have been laid off, and 489 library employees were also served notice Monday.

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Interim city manager Adam Laughlin and EPL CEO Pilar Martinez confirmed the decision during a news conference Monday afternoon.

“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,” Laughlin said, clearly emotional.

“Today it is having an impact on the jobs of 1,600 people,” he said.

Not all rec and community employees have been affected — 400 people were not laid off, said Laughlin, continuing work at locations such as cemetery services, animal care at the zoo, and plant care at the Muttart.

Clareview Rec Centre in Edmonton, March 30, 2020.

Clareview Rec Centre in Edmonton, March 30, 2020.

Wes Rosa, Global News

Some employees have been redeployed from rec centres to other positions, for example to the EXPO Centre, but the exact number of employees who were transferred was not available.

The city has a total of about 14,000 employees, Laughlin said. City council has also asked administration to bring forward an updated budget plan, taking the COVID-19 pandemic into account, by April 15.

“The work we have been undertaking up until then would be assessing if we do need to pursue additional layoffs.”

All city recreation facilities have been closed since March 14. 

Laughlin said that the city employees laid off include cashiers, fitness instructors, arena attendants, city hall tour guides, art and education instructors, booking clerks, labourers and lifeguards.

Meanwhile, Edmonton Public Library will be laying off 489 employees — about 75 per cent of its staff.

“EPL has been closely monitoring the developments of COVID-19 over the past several weeks,” said Martinez.

“This decision in no way reflects their hard work and dedication to EPL,” said Martinez.

In a layoff letter obtained by Global News, Edmonton Public Library employees were told that branch closures that were initially announced on March 14 would be continuing for an “extended period of time” and that, as a result, the organization would be initiating temporary layoffs.

The layoffs will be effective Tuesday, April 14, and will affect positions across the organization, including branch services and “almost every other department at EPL.”

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The letter said that along with Employment Insurance or the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, laid off employees will also be able to access a “Supplementary Unemployment Benefit Plan” that will provide additional income top-ups for employees, up to 75 per cent of average weekly earnings.

A sign at the drop-off box at an Edmonton Public Library branch, March 30, 2020.

A sign at the drop-off box at an Edmonton Public Library branch, March 30, 2020.

Wes Rosa, Global News

Recreation employees will also have access to the SUB plan, said Laughlin at the news conference.

With the SUB plan, permanent full-time employees will receive up to 16 weeks of the top-ups, and part-time and temporary employees will receive the top-ups for eight weeks.

“We felt this was an appropriate support for our employees going through this difficult time,” said Laughlin. “If there is confirmation, in terms of supplemental support from the provincial or federal governments, we would certainly revisit this.”

The EPL and city employees who participate in benefit plans will have their coverage continue through the layoffs, including mental health support.

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Lanny Chudyk, president of CSU 52, the union which represents many EPL clerical employees, told Global News Monday that the layoffs were a “fair and reasonable” outcome due to the unprecedented circumstances around COVID-19.

He said that the unions were informed Friday about the layoffs. Chudyk added that he believes the wage top-up measures the city has agreed to go “above and beyond” what other jurisdictions have offered laid off employees.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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