No layoffs for current full-time unionized RMWB staff in agreement

The deal plans to outsource, merge and restructure jobs by cutting 459 RMWB jobs, although the RMWB still faces shrinking revenues.

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No unionized full-time employees will be laid off by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), according to a joint statement with the municipality and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 1505.

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The Monday morning statement ends plans to outsource, merge and restructure jobs by cutting 459 jobs at the municipality. A municipal spokesperson said in an email “a number” of exempt positions have been cut, some roles are being reassigned, and changes are coming to the management and leadership structure.

While we cannot confirm specific personnel changes to protect privacy, we are committed to ensuring no union staff are left without employment opportunities,” read the email.

The agreement says some vacant positions will be cut through attrition. New positions will be added on “an as-needed basis going forward.” Only core services will be maintained on statutory holidays. Instead of merging departments, some jobs will be consolidated so staff can work in different areas of the RMWB. Changes to how overtime is used are coming, with the goal of cutting overtime costs.

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Craig Milley, CUPE 1505 president, said in an interview the Fort Chipewyan Airport will continue to be run by the RMWB instead of being transferred to the Fort McMurray Airport Authority (FMAA). Milley said the employees have multiple duties for the municipality in Fort Chipewyan. Transferring the airport to the FMAA would have been inefficient for both groups.

“We do look at this as a success although there are some negative impacts to this,” he said. “We know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to make this successful, but we’re optimistic we’re going to be able to and save jobs within the RMWB.”

henry hunter
Mayor Sandy Bowman and CAO Henry Hunter during a council meeting as protesters rally against plans to cut hundreds of municipal jobs on March 12, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

RMWB facing revenue challenges

Layoffs and restructuring were announced in late February by CAO Henry Hunter. Unions and labour groups in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region loudly protested the layoffs with chants, sirens, horns and music during a March 13 council meeting.

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Council continued with the meeting, although the walls shook at times. CUPE members held signs protesting the layoffs at the meeting, and continued attending meetings for weeks afterwards.

The RMWB agreed to cancel 120-day layoff notices before the Easter long weekend while negotiations continued.

Both Hunter and Mayor Sandy Bowman have warned the RMWB tax revenues are shrinking. The RMWB’s finances peaked when council passed a $1-billion budget for 2013, while the 2024 budget is $611.4 million.

A major blow came in 2016 when the Alberta government told the RMWB to lower the difference between property taxes paid by oilsands operators and the lowest residential taxes to a 5-to-1 ratio. The RMWB’s rate is at 6.21-to-1 and dropping.

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Past and current mayors and councillors have also said the RMWB is hurting financially from economic uncertainty with global oil prices, the 2016 Horse River Wildfire and an increasing reliance on transient workers in the oilsands.

Hunter justified organizational changes by arguing business and operational costs have increased. The RMWB is funding expensive projects such as flood mitigation, rural water and sewage servicing, and an asset management plan to support infrastructure.

A KPMG audit of the RMWB presented to council in late February concluded that as of last October, council made too many requests to an understaffed administration. Auditors also said the municipality is understaffed and struggles filling key positions.

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