Following a discussion about the Town’s staffing levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, Coun. Erwin Wiens spoke passionately about the work employees are doing to maintain services, and suggested councillors might give up their salaries before any further lay-offs are considered.
In Lord Mayor Betty Disero’s update at the start of Monday’s phone-in meeting, she outlined the number of full-time and contract staff, which total 76 per cent of the Town’s normal full-time complement. Of 44 contract or seasonal employees, 24 have not been hired back for the season, and nine have been laid off, she said. There are currently 87 full-time employees and 12 contract staff.
Under the rules of the Town’s collective bargaining agreement with staff, contract employees would have to be laid off first, with every department except the fire department having contract staff, councillors heard.
“Every employee is essential to our operations,” said Disero., adding the Town is “working really hard” at maintaining the essential services it has promised to residents.
The Region has reported it has not laid off any staff, she said, and is redeploying as many people as possible. One of the messages from the Region to local municipalities is not to push to make cuts too quickly — this will cause an even greater problem in years to come, she said.
If there were to be any discussion of laying off staff, said interim CAO Sheldon Randall, it would require direction from council about what services should be cut. “Our staff complement right now is what we need to deliver services.”
Coun. Allan Bisback suggested the Town could communicate to residents what services are being maintained and running efficiently, including provincial regulatory requirements related to services such as water and sewers, and what they’re doing above their regular services. If anything, he said, there is extra stress and more activities being put on staff.
Coun. Clare Cameron said she’s heard comments from residents wondering what staff at the Town are doing, and if they’re working from home, what they’re doing there.
She agreed that communicating the work of employees could be an opportunity to express to the public how much activity is going on at the Town.
In a motion made by Bisback, to have council approve all decisions made on its behalf by the emergency control group since the declaration of a state of emergency March 23, he also asked that all staff be thanked for their efforts toward protecting residents during that time.
Erwin Wiens said that is sending out a “mixed message,” thanking staff for all they do while also talking about laying off full-time staff and reviewing what they’re doing.
The Town is already working with a skeleton crew, he said, short a CAO, and with other staff off with long-term illnesses.
Employees are moving from one position to another without hesitation, yet they are continually hearing lay-off discussions, he said.
Councillors have asked the interim CAO if all staff are essential, have been told they are, “and we have to take him at his word,” said Wiens.
“We could reduce our costs by reducing what we’re paid, about $12,000 to $15,000. That would show leadership right off the bat,” he said.
“Before the Town starts laying off the guy who is cutting grass, we should look at ourselves.”
The Town is one of the few that has a collective bargain instead of a union, and on average NOTL employees get paid less than everywhere else, with staff ratios lower than everywhere else, “so where other places may cut five, 10, 15 people, we can’t cut because we’ve already cut,” said Wiens.
“If we’re going to send out a message, we’ve got to mean it.”
Without commenting on Wiens’ suggestion to give up their salaries before employees are laid off, councillors voted to approve emergency group decisions, and to thank all staff.