1,900 city staff set to be re-deployed to COVID-19 response, or put on leave
Published Monday, April 20, 2020 6:28PM EDT
Mayor John Tory says the city has reached a deal with the unions representing city staff that will see thousands of municipal workers redeployed to Toronto’s COVID-19 emergency response, or put on leave.
The mayor said the city reached a deal with Local 79 over the weekend and a similar deal was reached today with Local 416.
“This agreement will make sure that it is all-hands-on-deck in key city services as we move through these next critical weeks,” Tory said during a media briefing Monday afternoon.
The emergency framework agreements establish guidelines for reassigning staff, and also establish temporary leave procedures that protect employees' positions and employment benefits if they are not able to be redeployed.
“This agreement is fair to Toronto residents and it is fair to the members of our city staff,” Tory said. “It also ensures that we can quickly move to put employees where they are needed right now to help in our response to COVID-19.”
He said nearly 500 city staff members have already been reassigned to roles in long-term care homes, and shelters, as well as other roles such as answering phone calls and e-mails coming into 311 call centres.
Affected staff will be assigned new tasks through a redeployment survey. Redeployment roles could include driving, enhanced cleaning, customer service, and other roles that may be identified as needs emerge.
Roughly 1,900 unionized and non-union staff who aren’t assigned to essential work, and who have roles that cannot be done remotely, will be part of the first wave to receive a redeployment survey, Tory said.
Through the survey, staff members will have the option to opt-in to redeployment or to opt-out of redeployment.
“Those who opt-out will be assumed to be requesting placement on emergency leave,” Tory said. “Emergency leave will provide those staff members with access to employment insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, as well as the same health and dental benefits in which they are currently enrolled, including OMERS if applicable, and continued accumulation of their seniority. However, they will not report to work and they will not be paid their regular pay.”
Tory said “every effort will be made” to accommodate city staff who want to be redeployed but have specific needs that have to be accommodated.
Those who opt-in but don’t receive redeployment placements will be placed on leave, but will also get a wage top-up beyond the EI or CERB amounts to which they would be entitled.
It was not immediately clear how many redeployment positions will be available or how many city staff would be affected through the agreements.
“We do not have a precise number of redeployment positions as the needs are constantly changing. Our Emergency Agreements with our union partners do allow great flexibility and the possibility of city staff supporting community work, not traditionally performed by the city,” city spokesperson Beth Waldman told CP24.com in an email.
“As the situation evolves, remote workers – who are productive at home but not necessarily supporting COVID-related activities – could comprise the next phase, if needed.”
To date, city staff have continued to be paid their regular wages. Waldman told CP24.com that staff will continue to be paid as usual until April 26.
The deals with city staff come as Toronto faces down a stark financial reality.
Tory has previously said that the city is losing $65 million a week because of the pandemic and last week, the city released projections that it would lose at least $1.5 billion this year because of the crisis.
The mayor has said that he is looking to the federal and provincial governments to help see municipalities through the crisis financially.
“I am extremely proud of how our workforce is stepping up during these extenuating circumstances, now more than ever and I want to thank them for helping their city when it is needed the most,” Tory said. “I am also extremely proud of how the vast majority of our citizens are stepping up to do everything necessary to defeat this virus.”