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City not contemplating vacation cancellations due to COVID-19

Thunder Bay Police are alone in postponing staff vacations.

THUNDER BAY —  The City of Thunder Bay has no current plan to cancel employee vacations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

City Manager Norm Gale says "there is absolutely nothing imminent, and we are having no direct discussions on that right now."

The Thunder Bay Police Service has put a hold on leave for all personnel, saying it's a necessary precaution to ensure police have adequate resources in the event members of the service become infected with the virus.

Gale said the option can't be completely ruled out for other city departments.

It would only occur, however, if COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus had a serious impact on staffing levels.

"Think about the water treatment plant. Think about Pioneer Ridge. Most of the people in there are professionals who are really not transferrable. To sustain those services, if and when we see staffing challenges...a lot of people getting sick or at home self-isolating...that would trigger discussions," Gale said.

He emphasized that the city is "not there" right now.

"We're not seeing a spike in sick time, and we continue to deliver the services that we've determined must be delivered."

Although essential services are being provided, the city has already laid off about one-third of its 2,300 full-time and part-time staff.

Affected workers include 170 full-time staff whose duties don't allow them to work from home, and 620 part-time staff who don't have work because of the closure of facilities or cancellation of programs in response to the pandemic.

Thunder Bay Fire Rescue Acting Chief Greg Hankkio said his department has not followed the example of the police service in cancelling all leave.

There is a contingency plan to do that should the need arise, Hankkio said.

"It's part of the pandemic plan that we've had in place for quite some time. It's really based on a threshold for staffing losses as a result of the pandemic," he told Tbnewswatch.

Staffing has not been impacted to any noteworthy degree by COVID-19 to this point.

Hankkio said "We've had a number of cases where people have gone for testing, and we've had them isolate pending the results of the test. But we haven't had any significant staffing reductions. Right now we're operating at normal levels."

A number of city employees are believed to have delayed their previously-booked vacations on their own initiative, because of the pandemic.

Gale said vacation scheduling is done in accordance with city policy and collective agreements, but the city tries to be flexible.

"I can cite no specific examples but I'm sure there are many," he said.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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