KELOWNA - Hospital Employees Union members took to the streets outside Kelowna General Hospital today to push for the Interior Health Authority to reconsider a plan to privatize laundry services.
“These are workers that perform a very important health care service, they ensure that operating rooms are stocked with clean linens. Here at KGH 17,000 pounds of laundry are processed daily,” says Jennifer Whiteside, the union’s secretary-business manager.
Whiteside said the union has collected almost 12,000 signatures from local residents on a petition they plan to present to to the B.C. Legislature in the next few days.
“These are members of the public who are very concerned about maintaining family supporting jobs in the community and keeping quality health services,” she adds.
Whiteside said the union has also received expressions of support from city councils in Kamloops, Vernon and Nelson and are hoping to get something similar from Kelowna city council.
While consultation with the union is a requirement of their collective agreement, Whiteside says the health authority doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously.
“What’s unfortunate is at the same time they are engaging in mandated consultation, they sent out a request for proposals,” she says. “You have to question how genuine the intention of the health authority is to really negotiate fairly with us.”
Whiteside says companies from the Lower Mainland and Alberta have an interest in the contract, meaning the union jobs could disappear here and end up as non-union jobs in another area.
The privatization of laundry services would affect 175 jobs within the health authority including 28 at Kelowna General.
Whiteside said an investment of $10 million over ten years would allow the health authority to keep the service in-house, an amount she described as “modest."
“We’re talking about a budget for health care of $17 billion across the province. At the end of the day, $10 million doesn’t even show up,” she adds.
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— This story was corrected at 11 a.m. May 7. The City of Penticton has not committed for or against the HEU on laundry services.