Union considers legal action after layoffs at Tourism Nanaimo

NANAIMO – Five employees given lay-off notices for Jan. 31 when tourism services extend through March.

CUPE Local 401 is considering potential legal action after Tourism Nanaimo employees were given notice they will be laid off Jan. 31.

The City of Nanaimo informed the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation at the end of the day on Dec. 5 its visitor and tourism service will end in January. Five Tourism Nanaimo employees have also been given layoff notices.

Previously the city has referred to March 31 as the end date for Tourism Nanaimo services.

Blaine Gurrie, CUPE Local 401 president, said the notices ending employment Jan. 31 shook staff pretty badly and took the union by surprise. The union’s understanding was economic development was going to be funded for tourism for the first quarter of the year. A funding request by the corporation for tourism and economic development service – a  $1.2-million request – was on the agenda for last night’s council meeting.

The union has since been in contact with its law firm about potential legal action around staffing by looking at previous negotiations around the creation of the economic development corporation, and in the interim it will help staff with the transition to see if placements can be found.

“We have no idea why the reduction in two months of work for these folks. It makes little sense,” Gurrie said. “And it’s also going to lead to problems at NEDC cause that’ll probably be NEDC then contracting out their work to another entity for the last two months which will create grievances down there.

“If NEDC gets funding for the first quarter … and our folks are laid off on Jan. 31, that means that they’ll be having somebody else doing our CUPE members’ jobs for at least two months, which is contracting out which is in violation of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation collective agreement with us.”

Amrit Manhas, chief executive officer of the corporation, said the NEDC was asked by city staff to prepare a budget for Tourism Nanaimo for the first quarter of 2017 until March 31, basically continuing on as it had before, but that recently changed. She said the corporation has now been asked that visitor service and tourism staff end Jan. 31.

If the proposed budget is approved, she said NEDC will use whatever money it needs until the end of Jan. 31 and hand whatever is left over for the other two months to the entity that would be delivering the services.

The City of Nanaimo launched a transition process for tourism in November, with a previous decision to no longer have NEDC handle the job. The process involves engagement, establishing a new advisory group and hiring Tourism Vancouver Island to take over destination marketing and development services. Originally, city staff referred to March 31 as being the date when Tourism Nanaimo would no longer provide service.

During a council meeting in late November on the transition process, Tracy Samra, chief administrative officer, said the recommendation from staff is there would be an additional three-month transition up until March 31, so there’s a six-month period of continuity and stabilization and an assurance that all aspects of Tourism Nanaimo would continue to be delivered.

She also said staff is working, for 2017, to have an interim portion of funding added to preserve the continuity of tourism services through to the end of March, noting there would be overlap with Tourism Vancouver Island.

Philip Cooper, city communications manager, also said at the meeting that funding to NEDC ends March 31, and at that point a cut to staffing would occur.

Mayor Bill McKay said he knew nothing about tourism staff’s jobs ending in January and didn’t believe there was a decision by council.

But according to Victor Mema, chief financial officer and acting city CAO, when the March 31 decision was made, it was not the day of starting to prepare for transition but the end. He said there’s preparatory work to be done and it was wise for them to proceed with the transition once it was identified where certain pieces are going.

Some of those pieces might still be at NEDC until March 31, he said.

When asked how Tourism Nanaimo can provide service without staff, he said the city provides the funding, “so when we enter into a contract with another party to offer the service, we have to move the money to that party. So what’s happening is we’re simply transitioning the tourism and activities to the various identified service providers.”

He said there is a draft agreement with Tourism Vancouver Island, which, as far as he knows, will take over Feb. 1.