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GRCA lays off 75 employees, looking at potential $5 million operating loss

The Grand River Conservation Authority said layoffs were necessary to reduce overall payroll expenses in order to maintain critical services
Grand River Conservation Authority -wetland
GuelphToday file photo

WELLINGTON COUNTY – The Grand River Conservation Authority has had to temporarily layoff 75 employees after projecting a potential operating loss of up to $5 million.

An email from Lisa Stocco, GRCA communications manager, said laid off staff include union, non-union staff in casual, seasonal, part-time and full-time positions across all levels of the organization.

Stocco explained that the GRCA had investigated applying for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy but was advised they would not be eligible for it.

“Temporarily laying off our employees is not an action we wanted to take,” CAO Samantha Lawson said by email.  “Given that the length of time and extent to which our operations will continue to be impacted by COVID-19 is uncertain, we have reached a stage where further reductions are needed in order to ensure the delivery of critical services now and in the longer term.”

All GRCA properties have been closed since March 23, which has had a significant impact on revenues. Stocco said by email that 50 per cent of their budget is supported through self-generated revenue which includes user fees, park admissions, camping revenue and other means that require visitors. 

Closures and cancelled programs and events have also reduced the volume of work in the organization. Stocco said it became necessary to reduce overall payroll expenses to be able to provide critical services and address the financial impact. 

“Our staff are highly dedicated, and have demonstrated resilience during this very challenging time,” Lawson said by email. “Like our watershed municipalities, we have been reducing our expenditures, while maintaining the highest level of service possible.”

A press release by the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) has criticized this move by the GRCA calling it a “severe case of leadership deficiency.”

The press release says management gave the union an hour notice before informing staff of the layoffs which cut short any opportunity to negotiate alternative solutions. 

OPSEU president Warren Thomas said in the press release that the organization’s senior managers should have considered a pay cut instead of laying off staff. 

Stocco said in an email that the GRCA has a collective agreement in place with its unionized workforce that includes a provision that allows temporary layoffs if there is a lack of work. 

She said their goal is to get all staff impacted by these temporary changes back to work as soon as possible.