February 29, 2016 8:04 pm
Updated: February 29, 2016 10:27 pm

Unionized hospital workers ‘leap for laundry’


KELOWNA — Rallies are being staged up and down the valley on Monday, as hospital workers protest Interior Health’s possible privatization of laundry services.

The Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) says it picked February 29 to “Leap for Laundry.”

Jean Bertrand is among the unionized workers who gathered outside Kelowna General Hospital, fighting to keep laundry services in-house.

“We might be down below, but we are the backbone because without us, they can’t run things,” says Bertrand.

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In late 2014, IH announced it was looking into outsourcing the laundry service to cut costs and avoid spending $10 million to upgrade the machines.

“IHA has never said it is about efficiency. It is about capital costs, that new equipment over the next 10-15 years will need to be replaced. We’re asking IHA and the province of B.C. to make that modest investment,” says Ken Robinson, a HEU spokesperson.

IH declined comment on Monday, but has previously argued the money would be better spent on medical equipment than on laundry facilities.

“So we’ve recognized that over the next 10 years, we might have to spend $10 million on equipment when we are already struggling to find money for medical equipment. So we will have look at doing things differently,” said Alan Davies, a regional director of support services, in an interview last May.

Bertrand says living under the threat of job loss for the last 15 months has been stressful.

“It’s been long and we’re all just kind of frustrated. And we’d like them to give us an answer one way or another.”

There are 178 jobs on the line in 11 different communities and cutting the laundry department would likely have a domino effect on other workers.

“I do have a nine-year seniority, so for me, I would unfortunately bump somebody out of their position to keep on working. So then I would put that person out of the job. So it isn’t good all around,” says Rhonda Studer, a laundry worker.

Studer is worried the quality will deteriorate if the job gets contracted out.

“When you go private it is always for profit, and people here, we care. We care what we’re handing to the surgeons, we care that the doctors gowns are going to be clean and that the surgical towels are going to be clean.”

IH’s board of directors is meeting Monday and Tuesday, saying an update will be provided shortly but cannot say when a decision will be made.

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