July 13, 2011
Well over 500 Toronto police officers and thousands of city workers will be issued layoff notices in January if the Ford administration follows through on a pledge to shrink the police budget and the city’s workforce.
On Tuesday, 17,000 city employees were offered a voluntary severance package. Sources say that if the buyout fails to generate significant savings, thousands of municipal staffers will also be let go. A senior city official told the Star the “magic number” is 3,000.
A similar scenario is currently playing out at the Toronto Police Service.
Last week, the police board already offered senior ranking officers an early retirement package in hopes of generating $2.8 million in salary savings. But board vice-chair Michael Thompson said the only way to hit the mayor’s reduction goal of $84 million is to explore layoffs.
In May, Thompson suggested as many as 500 officers will need to be let go to meet that target. Now, the Scarborough councillor admits that number is significantly more.
“That number would be much higher than 500, if in fact we were going to be doing that,” Thompson acknowledged Tuesday.
“No one’s saying this is what we’re going to do. We’re saying: What are the implications and what would it look like if we were to do it?’”
Chief Bill Blair is expected to provide the board with an exact number within the next week.
The Toronto Police Service is already operating well below its official 5,617 deployment strength. Blair has been forced to delay hiring about 200 officers to balance the 2011 budget. If even 600 more police are let go, it would mean one of the biggest service reductions — about 15 per cent — in North America.
Police union president Mike McCormack said he has had no “formal discussions” about officer layoffs, but that the rumoured reduction would be “devastating” to public safety.
Meanwhile, city manager Joe Pennachetti announced Tuesday that all permanent City of Toronto employees, excluding firefighters, are being given an exit option.
Employees of the city’s boards, agencies and commissions — which include TTC workers, library staff and police — are not eligible.
At a news conference, Pennachetti said staff has no set target in mind, but a senior official said 3,000 would be about the needed number. What can’t be achieved through buyouts will be done through layoffs.
This reduction would mean about $180 million in savings for the city on top of the roughly $70 million generated from the police layoff. Combined, this would be the most significant step the Ford administration has taken toward closing the $774 million funding gap.
When asked about the 3,000 target, Pennachetti said he would not be offering any more comment than he gave at the news conference.
Mayor Rob Ford said he hoped “thousands” would take the package. He added that layoffs are not currently planned, but he left the door open, saying: “We have to look at ways of downsizing our workforce. We have too many employees here. Everyone you talk to agrees with that assessment. And it’s eating up a huge chunk of our budget.”
Logistically, a layoff at the city won’t be easy. Both Local 79 and 416, which represent a combined 16,000 permanent employees, have language in their collective agreements preventing permanent staff from being shown the door while temporary workers are still employed.
There are about 16,000 temporary, part-time and seasonal employees working for the city. This would seem to suggest that the Ford administration will be relying on non-unionized staff.
The city employs between 3,700 and 4,000 permanent supervisors and managers.
City staff members have until Sept 9. to fill out the application. From there, management will have the discretion to refuse or accept. Staff will be paid up to six months’ severance based on years of service. It’s an offer 416 president Mark Ferguson characterized as “substandard.”
“We will be recommending our members not to take this offer,” he said. “Every position lost at this point forward is going to impact frontline service. This is just a service reduction in disguise.”
Ford did not respond to a question about the target reduction.