Unexpected labour shortage behind delay in parks maintenance

By Craig Westcott / August 4, 2023

It turns out the Town of Conception Bay South was facing something common to many employers when it ended up having to deal with delays last month getting some community parks ready for the summer: namely, a staff shortage.

But Mayor Darrin Bent said there were a couple of positives to emerge from the situation.

“There were a few moving parts,” the mayor allowed. “As you know, we were in negotiations (with the union for a new collective agreement) until the end of May. They were elongated but successful for both sides, which we’re very pleased about. But during those negotiations we created a new classification, CUPE 3034 and the Town, called Labourer Public Works. That allowed four of our Recreation staff who had been working full time for quite some time, but were only Temporary, to move into permanent jobs. So, they left Recreation and transitioned into Public Works, which is where they wanted to go. That of course left us four people short in Recreation for a period of time, and we couldn’t post the jobs because the classifications weren’t completely settled until the negotiations were finalized. Also at the same time, we did a recall of our regular temporary people who come in and work for the summer and all of them didn’t come back, all seven.”

So, the Recreation department unexpectedly and in a short period of time went from 11 labourers to zero, Bent said.

“Of course, we’re very pleased to have been able to transition workers that are working full time hours on a temporary basis into permanent positions – it’s the right thing to do, they deserve that status,” the mayor said. “But unfortunately, that coupled with the seven who didn’t come back on recall, for various reasons…  those two things led to a very slow process with the staff left to mow the lawns.”

Bent allowed it’s not just the Town of CBS, but just about every business and organization that has had to cope lately with staff shortages as people move between jobs more and try transitioning towards a better work and life balance.

“But we went to CUPE 3034 and asked for their help in early July to allow Public Works workers to come over to Recreation and assist us with that work (in the parks), and they agreed,” Bent said. “We appreciate our partnership with them and the help they gave us. And in short order, when we got some new temporary people, we were able to get things caught up pretty quickly. So, by the last council meeting (on July 11) things were pretty well done. There might have been some open spaces – Kitty Ade’s Turn, a few places along roadways, and so forth that were done last, after the playgrounds. People noticed it and we get that. But it was one of those things, a perfect storm (of circumstances) that we don’t ever expect to happen again.”

And it turns out the Town had no trouble filling the seasonal temporary positions in the Recreation Department once it was able to post them. “We had over 200 applications,” said the mayor. “And we were very pleased to see that. So, there are lots of people looking for that excellent work that we offer.”

Bent said the Town was fortunate in that it had earlier put a priority on ensuring the playing fields throughout CBS were mowed and lined and painted for the organized sports groups to start operations in May and June. But he and council were disappointed that some of the neighbourhood parks didn’t get mowed until early July. 

Meanwhile, the Town and the union have agreed to create a new job classification that will enable council to hold more evening and weekend events without incurring as much overtime costs.

“That classification is a new events staff that we can hire on a temporary, part-time basis to come in and do events for us in the summertime, and even in the winter, and we don’t have to schedule overtime for other staff to do those sorts of things,” Bent explained. “That benefits both the residents, and of course the Town and the staff. So, a couple of things happened there that are beneficial going forward. But there was that little slowdown, because the (contract) negotiations went on probably a month or so longer than we wanted them to. But with negotiations you do the work you’ve got to do to get it done and we’re very pleased that we were able to work with CUPE and come to an agreement that will benefit residents and give them the surety that they need over the next four years that things will progress as they should.”

And that’s important, Bent noted, because as CBS continues to grow, so do the expectations of residents when it comes to services and amenities. 

“To be able to add the classification for special events is going to allow us to service that need and that expectation better without incurring overtime,” he said. “I think that’s a great thing, and that probably into the fall and winter of next year we’re going to see more of the benefits of that as we fully utilize that availability… This will give us a lot more flexibility, and not only saves on overtime – the rate of pay isn’t as high as it would be for somebody who has been there 10 years. But we need to do these sorts of things, because the more we grow, the more people want to be at and they don’t really want to be driving back and forth to St. John’s to do it, and I appreciate that, because I don’t either.”

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