DULUTH – The city is laying off 49 employees — half of them library staff — as leaders continue to reckon with a potential $25 million shortfall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noah Schuchman, Duluth's chief administrative officer, said most of those laid off were employees who could not work remotely or whose services aren't needed while much of the city remains shut down. City leadership is viewing the move as a temporary measure, with the hope of rehiring staff in the coming months.
"I want to be really clear that we recognize the impact that this has on employees and their families," Schuchman said. "We are working as a leadership team to preserve as many full-time jobs as possible."
The decision will save Duluth an estimated $234,000 per month, a city spokesperson said Wednesday. Before the pandemic, the city employed more than 900 people.
Staffers were notified this week that the layoffs will take effect May 8. Employees who will be laid off will have benefits until the end of May.
Among those affected were five parking service agents, four housing inspectors, four park maintenance workers and three janitors. The city had previously laid off 45 temporary employees and frozen hiring.
The last time Duluth laid off a large group of employees was 2008, when then-Mayor Don Ness let go 170 workers, many of whom were seasonal or temporary staff. The city was facing a $6.5 million shortfall at the time.
"What we're trying to do is make incremental steps that will give us a little space for things to stabilize so that we can get a better understanding of what the long-term impact is," Schuchman said.
Schuchman is also talking with the city's various bargaining units about "ways in which we can work with them to give us some budget help."
Representatives of the local unit of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an interview last week, Mayor Emily Larson said without more aid from the state or federal governments, she expects all city departments will face cuts.
"Absolutely every division will have to be a part of it," she said. "There is no way to absorb that kind of cost to our operations without it being a shared encumbrance."
Duluth has also closed one of its two public golf courses for the year and delayed a handful of street projects. The city postponed opening other amenities until it can better assess whether doing so is safe and financially viable.