RMWB cancels 120-day layoff notices, negotiations continuing with CUPE

A joint statement warns “this withdrawal does not inherently guarantee that there will be no future impact on the workforce.”

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The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) is withdrawing its 120-day layoff notices that were sent to some unionized employees on Feb. 29. However, a joint statement from the RMWB and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) warns “this withdrawal does not inherently guarantee that there will be no future impact on the workforce.”

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The joint statement, which was issued Thursday evening, says the gesture was done in the spirit of collaboration as talks continue with CUPE 1505. The union also says it is ready to “engage constructively” with the RMWB.

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“In light of recent collaborative dialogues, both parties have demonstrated a mutual commitment to work together in identifying and implementing efficiencies across the municipality’s operations,” reads the statement. “Both parties are dedicated to working together to ensure the continuation of efficient and sustainable public services.”

The layoffs would have impacted 265 workers. The RMWB also planned to cut 134 vacant jobs and end 60 temporary positions.

Changes included outsourcing custodial services; certain functions in parks, solid waste, and fleet services; and transferring maintenance duties at the Fort Chipewyan Airport to the Fort McMurray Airport Authority. Some positions might become redundant or outsourced for efficiency.

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Other changes include shortening Pulse Line hours, consolidating customer service agent roles, and merging the environmental and facility services departments.

The reaction from CUPE and other labour groups has been outrage. Unions and public supporters protested the layoffs by screaming, chanting, and blaring sirens, honking horns and playing music during a March 13 council meeting. CUPE members with signs protesting the layoffs crowded the March 26 meeting.

CUPE has pointed out the last time the RMWB outsourced services was a failure. Two years into a 15-year contract, the council of the day ended their contract with TOK Transit in 2015 after an audit noted a high number of complaints and missed performance targetsTOK Transit sued the RMWB and the lawsuit was settled privately in 2022.

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Protesters sit at a council meeting protesting plans to cut hundreds of municipal jobs on March 12, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

RMWB revenues shrinking, costs increasing: Hunter

A statement from CAO Henry Hunter earlier on Thursday said the municipality’s tax revenues has dropped drastically in recent years. Budgets have shrunk since the 2013 budget peaked at $1-billion. During the last seven years, the budget plunged precipitously by roughly $250 million. At the same time, business and operational costs continue increasing.

The RMWB is funding costly projects that include flood mitigation, rural water and sewage servicing, and an asset management plan to support infrastructure.

“As CAO, I believe it is my responsibility to ensure administration operates as efficiently as possible and provides value for money to our taxpayers. Failure to do so can have a significant impact, and could lead to tax increases, service reduction, or project cancellation,” said Hunter.

As the steward of the work of administration and operations, I have proposed to take this action now –as difficult as it may be–to create a more stable, sustainable, and secure future for the organization and its employees.”

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