City of Edmonton staff costs need rethinking

Edmonton – The City of Edmonton must take a hard look at staffing costs to reach financial sustainability, says Prosperity Edmonton. In wage negotiations with its staff, the City should look to what’s happening in the wider Alberta economy, where wages have stayed relatively flat in light of difficult economic realities.

The City’s spending has been increasing at an unsustainable rate over the last 10 years, increasing far faster than population growth and inflation. This has driven many businesses to take their operations outside city limits. In the City’s 2015-2018 operating budget, 57% of operating spending went to staff wages and benefits. Businesses are calling on the city to keep those expenditures flat.

“It’s hard to get anywhere in terms of cost savings unless you look at what’s taking up more than half of the budget,” says Chad Griffiths, a spokesperson for Prosperity Edmonton. “If City Council is going to help Edmonton businesses and families survive and thrive, they can’t ignore the biggest piece of the pie.”

A recent comparison of public and private sector wages (CFIB, 2015) found that salaries and benefits were 12.5% higher for City of Edmonton employees than for comparable job profiles in the private sector. Policies around hours of work and earned days off contribute to this, creating a situation where City employees earn higher salaries and work fewer hours than Edmontonians in comparable private sector jobs.

Between 2006 and 2016, the City of Edmonton’s full-time workforce grew at a much greater rate than the city’s population. The job security clause in the 2015-2018 collective agreement also makes it extremely difficult for the City of Edmonton to modify and revise its full-time equivalent positions, which further complicates the City’s ability to adapt to and evolve with economic and technological trends.

Edmonton’s front-line workers are some of the very best at what they do, and it is incumbent on the City of Edmonton to look beyond wage and staffing increases alone to help get Edmontonians the services they really need. Decreasing vacancies, absenteeism and turnover can have a positive effect on the broader community through increased service delivery and lower costs. Additionally, there needs to be a focus on empowering employees to bring forward new ideas for efficiencies and a process for improvements to service delivery to rise to the top levels of the organization.

Civic Service Union 52 has itself proposed ways to cut costs while preserving frontline services in a Submission to Council. Some of its suggestions merit serious consideration – changes to the City’s “top-heavy” management structure, modernizing the job evaluation process and expanding shared services across civic organizations could all produce significant savings. Greater accountability for senior managers, easier access to decisionmakers and clearer expectations for employees could improve workplace culture and decrease costly turnover – problems that inflated salaries can’t solve.

“City Council needs to ask whether we have the right number of people in the right positions to do the work, and whether those people are being paid fairly. If the honest answer to those questions is that we have a problem, it’s Council’s urgent responsibility to put things right.” says Griffiths.

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