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Town office temporarily laid off 68 employees

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Many union and non-union positions for the Town of Hinton received temporary lay-off notices in March and April, due to the municipal response to COVID-19.

In March, Council provided direction regarding the use of cost-mitigating strategies to manage the financial effects of COVID-19.

Among strategies used, temporary lay-offs assisted in managing losses and expenditures due to the pandemic.

Temporary elimination of services and programs resulted in lack of work, as well as budgetary concerns.

A total of 53 unionized workers and 15 staff positions were temporarily laid off across all departments.

Services which the town is unable to provide during the COVID-19 pandemic have higher numbers of unionized employees, resulting in more union employees temporarily laid off than salaried employees, explained Nikiea Hope, Human Resources manager. 

She added that the majority of Town employees are unionized. 

Out of 157 employees in mid-March, 55 are salaried-staff and 102 are unionized.

“As an example, in the pool, all staff except one are unionized. All received a temporary lay-off notice as the entire service area is closed. Whether an employee was unionized or not did not factor into the decision,” Hope stated.

Employees were also given an option to take temporary lay-offs due to childcare concerns, or to reduce their hours.

Triggers that will  recall employees are based on the phased reopening put in place by the Province of Alberta, and the Town’s subsequent reopening strategy.

“Some employees have already been recalled to work (~9), and more will be recalled in the coming months,” stated Hope in an email.

Interim CAO, Emily Olsen, stated by early to mid-June, recalls of parks employees will be seen, bringing that area nearly back to full staff. 

“That will leave the majority of the remaining lay-offs directly related to the closure of facilities, such as the recreation centre,” said Olsen.

On March 12, the town operated with a total of 157 employees, and 85 employees continued working throughout the pandemic. 

The majority of employees that remained were 30 unionized workers and five staff in the Infrastructure Services department.

Protective services and the CAO’s office had no temporary lay-offs, but Parks, Recreation and Culture saw the most layoffs of 36 people.

In March, four other employees were laid off not related to COVID-19, including due to the closure of the Parent Link program. 

President of UNIFOR Local 855 who represents the town’s unionized employees, did not respond to a request for comment from the Hinton Voice before deadline.

Both the Hinton Public Library and the Northern Rockies Museum of Culture & Heritage are partly funded by the Town of Hinton, and both saw service and staff reductions, said Laura Howarth, community services director.

The library reduced staffing levels by 60 per cent during the pandemic as programs and services were temporarily halted, reduced, or modified. 

As per provincial legislation, the library board includes a town council representative and alternate, but is an independent governing board.

They have complete autonomy but work with the Town as there are many supports that the Town provides, such as the facility space, maintenance, custodial, finance, payroll, and safety.

The only influence Town Council has on the funds allocated to the library is the total amount, and not how the funds are spent, Howarth explained.

“As always, the Library Board is managing their budget within their own legislated mandate and making adjustments to ensure it remains balanced, specifically (but not only) during pandemic times,” Howarth said.

The museum was closed during the pandemic as mandated by the Alberta Government, but continued offering modified online programs.

The museum received operating funds through the Town’s budget process, but the relationship between the Town and the museum is not governed by legislation, and is ever-evolving based on previous projects, land agreements, grant application requests etc, said Howarth.

 Funds received by the Museum are treated like an operational grant in that it requires some degree of reporting and accountability to be spent in the way it was intended. 

The library and museum both receive funding through different avenues as well.

Details of the financial status of the Town of Hinton through COVID-19 will be coming to a Council meeting on June 9.