Laundry, housekeeping targeted as Vancouver authority announces first of sweeping privatization initiatives

Successful action plan votes put HEU members in strong position to combat attacks on jobs, Medicare

Without any consultation or public discussion, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is speeding ahead with a sweeping privatization scheme to meet the cutback targets set by the Campbell government that involve contracting out a number of important support services and layoffs for hundreds of HEU members.

In a news release issued this morning, the VCHA announced the first phase of privatizations that will target laundry and linen services at Vancouver Hospital and Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, along with housekeeping services at some VGH building sites that it claims do not include in-patient wards.

“This is clearly the opening salvo in the Campbell government’s privatization push,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “And our members at VGH and Lions Gate—among others—have already voted overwhelmingly to approve a comprehensive fight back plan, including job action, to take on the Campbell agenda.

“We’re in a really strong position to combat these attacks on jobs and Medicare,” he says.

The VCHA admits that more privatization initiatives are on the way. It’s already moving on a scheme to consolidate stores and purchasing for acute care hospitals in the mega region. And it has targeted a range of other services for contracting out including security and landscaping.

It claims that it might save $40 million when it completes its “redesign of corporate support services” scheme with no direct impact on patient care. The authority is set to begin discussions with private companies and formally request proposals.

But Allnutt disputes these claims, and says that privatizing laundry and housekeeping will impact patient care. “Let’s be clear, privatizing services in order to make up for huge government cuts can only be achieved by cutting wages, or by reducing service quality,” he says.

Meanwhile, in a letter sent to HEU minutes before the media release was distributed, the VCHA outlined a proposal for an employer controlled early retirement/voluntary termination plan that it claims will cushion the impact of layoffs on unionized health care workers. It proposes providing between eight and 24 weeks pay for voluntary retirements and terminations.

While Allnutt says that HEU is analyzing the proposal, it is significantly less than what members would have been entitled to before the Campbell government broke legal collective agreements in January. “It’s also dramatically less than what Victoria provided to direct government employees,” he says.

“And what’s worse, the employer wants members who it decides will receive these `benefits’ to sign legal forms that will prevent these members from sharing in the monetary damages we’ll win when we successfully overturn Bill 29 in court.”

And Allnutt reiterated HEU’s warning to companies that seek to cash in on health care privatization. “When Bill 29 is struck down, through our legal challenge, there will be huge costs that neither health employers nor corporations will be able to insulate themselves from,” he says. “Anyone who seeks to profit or benefit from this draconian legislation does so at their peril.”