KELOWNA - The Hospital Employees Union continued its public pressure campaign against privatization of laundry services this week with a pair of rallies in the largest communities within the Interior Health Authority.
Laundry workers sought to bring provincial politicians into the mix by protesting in front of the contituency offices of MLA Terry Lake in Kamloops on Tuesday and MLA Steve Thompson in Kelowna today, June 18.
The union’s secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside, in Kelowna to address the rally, says the union's core message hasn’t changed even as the health authority considers the option of folding its in-house laundry services and laying off 175 workers.
“Can Interior communities really afford to lose family supporting jobs? Certainly from our perspective, we don’t think so and our members that do the work don’t think so either,” Whiteside says.
Laundry services in health care facilities outside the Lower Mainland remain in-house while the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities privatized their laundry services aproximately 10 years ago.
According to Whiteside, costs for contract laundry services in the Lower Mainland have gone up 170 per cent over the last seven years.
“I can tell you public sector laundry workers in the Interior have not seen a 170 per cent increase in that time.”
She also argues the health authority risks losing control of laundry service costs for short term gains.
“Privatization is not transparent so the IHA stands to lose control over its service and the public stands to lose the transparency they have right now," she says. "We think the risk is too great."
The health authority says they are considering privatization because they cannot afford to invest the estimated $10.5 million required to replace aging equipment. Public sector laundry workers are paid between $18 and $19.75 an hour.
Alan Davie, director of support services, has said the 175 employees potentially affected by the privatization will be able to transfer or bump their way back into other support services positions dietary and housekeeping, but Whiteside argued it would still mean the loss of those positions, even if the laundry workers were absorbed into other departments.
Whiteside says laundry services in the Interior Health Authority are the most efficient in the province and have recently been able to increase the volume of laundry they process.
“Yet your future as a laundry worker here is at risk for a scheme that is absolutely uncertain.”
The health authority has already received responses to its tender for contract services but will not make a decision until its July board meeting.
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