By Trevor Busch
While times are tough and municipalities are staring at some stark financial realities, recent job cuts proposed as a partial solution to the Town of Taber’s cash crunch didn’t sit well with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2038.
Staff reductions to the tune of $610,000 were being called for in recreation, public works, and management in the Town of Taber’s 2021 operating budget when it was originally tabled on Oct. 13. After some lively debate in council chambers in October town council has since opted to make up the deficit by way of a reserve transfer rather than layoffs, but the opening proposal sent shockwaves reverberating through the municipality’s workforce.
Initially, a lack of specifics about what jobs were being targeted and how many were likely to fall under the axe created a charged atmosphere of speculation.
“CUPE impression and thoughts were where would they cut these positions without changing the level of service to the Town of Taber?” said CUPE Local 2038 president Irene Irmler. “The membership reached out to the executives of Local 2038, all members had deep concerns, questions and speculation.”
With a recent Organizational Review recommending contracting out specific jobs like grass cutting and tree pruning, more potential cuts may be on the table in the future.
“CUPE cannot forecast what will happen in the next years,” said Irmler. “We would hope that administration and council would work closely with CUPE to avoid any layoffs or contracting out.”
Irmler argues the $600,000 to be cut by the town could have been found elsewhere after making a deep dive to find more efficiencies.
“CUPE cannot understand why administration would want to cut CUPE positions,” said Irmler. “We are confident they could find the reduction without cutting jobs or effecting levels of service.”
Singling out specific departments for potential job cuts in a public document before bringing it to council led to heightened anxiety among employees, and could have been handled better, says Irmler.
“There was a lot of criticism throughout our organization, many members reached out to CUPE executives. CUPE executives sent out an email on October 9 encouraging that all members reach out to council, letting council know and help council understand the variety of positions within the Town of Taber that are essential, as well as the level of service being provided to the residents of the Town of Taber. All the members who reached out to council had replies that were mostly positive.”
Irmler pointed out CUPE Local 2038 is not insensitive to financial realities in 2020, and is willing to work with the Town of Taber in contract negotiations to help the town reach its fiscal goals.
“CUPE voted in favour to present a letter to Council after the members voiced their concerns, and wanting to work with council and administration, the members decided to propose a letter to the CAO (Cory Armfelt) and Mayor (Andrew Prokop) on October 23 to be brought forward at the next council meeting. CUPE proposes a one-year contract extension of our current agreement with no wage increase, no reduction in staffing or reduction to current employee hours.”