KAMLOOPS – About 150 to 175 workers who could potentially lose their jobs if Interior Health follows through on contracting out laundry services to private companies will be rallying alongside other union members next week.
The protest, set to take place in Kamloops on March 31, is one of the ways Barbara Nederpel and the Hospital Employee’s Union hope to take action against Interior Health’s proposal.
The provincial government plan could shut down 11 laundry service sites that service a total of 55 locations within the province. Dirty linens would then be shipped to one or more cleaning companies, which are currently bidding for the opportunity.
If a proposal is accepted, it would result in an estimated 150 layoffs of part time and full time staff. Interior Health spokesperson Michaela Swan says that would translate to 16 full time equivalent positions in Kamloops. Nederpel says the number of layoffs would be closer to 175.
Privatization of the service is being considered as a way to redistribute capital dollars from laundry service upkeep to more necessary costs for hospitals, like surgery or emergency equipment.
“We really need those capital dollars for other priorities,” Swan says. “Our sympathies are with the staff. We’re still exploring (options) and there are certainly no major decisions at this point in time.”
But for Nederpel the money is about keeping an investment in the 18 total workers in Kamloops who could be affected.
“Even if (the service is) contracted out, the odds are they aren’t going to get any savings by contracting it out. The poundage is going to be astronomical. Shipping this stuff is going to be quite expensive. Efficiency-wise it’s not going to improve,” Nederpel says. “These are jobs that contribute to the local economy. These jobs are going to be shipped out of Kamloops permanently. And when you look at what happened with Horizon North – their second round of layoffs, you can’t keep getting rid of jobs."
Nederpel notes the knowledge of a potential layoff has laundry workers feeling stressed and demoralized as they wait for government action.
“These jobs could be shipped down to the Lower Mainland or it could be Calgary. So we’re not entirely sure what it could look like,” she notes.
Interior Health expects to receive submissions from proponents by the end of May, Swan says. After that analysts will research if the option is feasible. A final decision is expected this summer.
Meanwhile local hospital employees will rally in front of Ponderosa Lodge on March 31 at 4 p.m. The rally, which Nederpel says is about the health accord will touch on privatized laundry.
The union has also started a petition about the privatization of health services, which it plans to deliver to the B.C. legislature.
Estimates from Interior Health peg total regional job loss due to the privatization of laundry services at more than 90 positions. Kelowna could lose 25 employees, Vernon 15, Penticton 18 and 17 in the Kootenay region.
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— This story was updated at 4:43 p.m., March 24, 2015, to correct the number of employees potentially impacted.