All of Burnaby's 1,500 layoffs were union staff, leaving managers untouched

Mayor Mike Hurley says the layoffs only cover about half of the city's revenues lost due to COVID-19

The City of Burnaby is defending its decision to lay off only union staff and retain all managers, saying managerial staff are required to steer the municipality through the pandemic.

The NOW has learned that all 1,500-plus individuals laid off amid hemorrhaging revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic were union members, while no exempt staff were laid off – meaning all managers have been retained at this point.

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“The role of managers at this time includes duties such as overseeing the ongoing upkeep and maintenance of our facilities, to ensure these multimillion-dollar assets don’t fall into disrepair,” said city spokesperson Chris Bryan in a brief statement.

“Managers’ work in the coming days and weeks will also include developing and implementing the plans for scaling up operations as COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted.”

The decision has not sat well with the city’s unionized staff, according to CUPE Local 23 president Bruce Campbell.

The layoffs come as the city loses a significant chunk of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including from people struggling with property taxes and other revenue sources drying up. The layoffs represent around 40% of CUPE 23 membership, according to Campbell, and mostly affect casual positions and those working at closed facilities.

Campbell said there’s likely not much he can do about the layoffs disproportionately affecting union workers – the union has little say in who can be laid off, besides following seniority.

“But it shouldn’t just be the unionized staff who are being temporarily laid off during this pandemic. Exempt staff should also be included,” Campbell said.

In an interview, Mayor Mike Hurley said the city will look at exempt staff as more savings are required, but part of the issue lies in individual contracts that require severance pay, which is typically based on years of work.

“There’s still much work to be done from the management side, but … we are looking at all of those, to see if there’s ways we can do that where it’s cost-efficient,” Hurley said. “Sometimes that (severance) can be more expensive. … Most managers at the city have been here a long time.”

Hurley said the city is losing between $5 million and $6 million every month in revenue, and the savings from the layoffs don’t “come anywhere close” to recouping that lost revenue.

“I wouldn’t want to put a number there, but I know it’s slightly less than $3 million a month,” Hurley said, adding the city will likely recover the rest of the hit to revenues by dipping into its savings.

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