Hospital laundry workers said privatizing a ‘dirty business’

With the privatization of in-house laundry services at hospitals in the Southern Interior looming, workers took to the streets in Penticton.

Left to right

Left to right

With the privatization of in-house laundry services at hospitals in the Southern Interior looming, workers took to the streets in Penticton to raise awareness.

The rally took place throughout the Southern Interior in five locations, including Kamloops, Kelowna, Nelson and Penticton, garnering support to stop the privatization of services that provide 17 jobs locally and 175 across the Interior.

Last month the Interior Health Authority (IHA) announced it was delaying the decision on whether or not to proceed with the contracting out of laundry services. In the latest release from the IHA it noted that a decision was expected in September but the process has taken “more time than expected.” A decision is now expected by the end of fall.

Brent Parker, a laundry service worker in Penticton for 23 years, was at the rally held across the street from the Penticton Public Library on Oct. 27 where some vehicles passing by honked in support of those carrying signs reading “privatizing laundry is dirty business.”

“The main focus is to keep the jobs here. We all live here, spend money in the community so we want to keep the jobs locally,” Parker said.

He said if the IHA continues on the track they are on, by this time next year workers will lose their jobs.

“There’s not a lot of really good jobs (in Penticton) and I feel I have a pretty darn good job in this city. That’s what’s been able to let me raise my family here and live here,” Parker said.

While the potential loss of his job will throw his upcoming retirement slightly off course, Parker is worried about the next generation.

While he’s not new to the position, Michael Vandegriend is facing a potentially tougher challenge than Parker in looking for a new way to make a living.

“I’m just trying to save local jobs. In the long run it’s cheaper to keep laundry in-house,” said Vandegriend,  a laundry worker in Penticton for the past 17 years.

“I might have to bump someone out of a different department or find another job,” Vandegriend said.

According to Parker and those against privatization, the transportation of the laundry to a centralized, private service will be more expensive in the long run than keeping the service in-house. Parker also raised the issue of quality assurance.

“The higher-ups don’t think (laundry service) is an important part of the hospital, but if you go to the hospital do you not want nice, clean linen when you are sick?” Parker said. “You’re not going to get it now, you’re not going to get that quality.”

Parker believes that privatization would move the laundry services to either Vancouver or Calgary.

Members of the South Okanagan Boundary Labour Council came out in support of the unionized laundry workers as well.

“The loss of any jobs is always a concern, but these are good paying jobs and they are being farmed out of the community. Any jobs lost in the community is hard on the community. It’s hard to find good paying jobs pretty much anywhere in British Columbia,” said Brent Voss, president of the South Okanagan Boundary Labour Council.