It took less than a day for the Northern Health Authority to begin contracting out unionized jobs in the health care support service sector.
Following the approval by some and rejection by others Monday of a local contract between the NHA and four health care unions, the NHA announced its intention to contract out laundry, housekeeping and food services.
Over 400 workers – 392 full-time equivalent – will lose their jobs as a result of the move.
It is expected to save the NHA roughly $2 million on what was projected to be a $6.13 million budget deficit. Those union locals that ratified the agreement saved the NHA a further $630,000.
The union that represents the bulk of the 392 lost jobs said it didn’t have to happen so fast. In fact, it didn’t have to happen at all, said Kathy Jessome, northern director of the Health Employees’ Union.
“Had they asked us for $2 million, this would not be happening today,” she said following the surprise announcement Tuesday. “They said we had to have a $6.1 million reduction in order to avoid contracting out. Now they contract out and they get savings of approximately $2 million? What were they going to save the other $4 million on?”
The NHA board last month asked the HEU and three other unions representing support workers for wage and benefit concessions.
In return for the concessions, the NHA promised it would guarantee their jobs at least until the provincial collective agreement is renegotiated in April 2004.
Union workers rejected that deal by a slim margin. Seven union locals did later vote in favour of local area agreements. The results of that vote, which didn’t include any Prince George workers, were released Monday.
By Tuesday afternoon, the NHA had issued its first request for proposals.
“We realized that we had to move ahead and we had to move ahead rather quickly,” said NHA spokesperson Mark Karjaluoto. “We had been informing our staff that this was the direction we were going to take, so we don’t think that there is a great deal of surprise behind this.”
Karjaluoto could not say where further savings would come from this year. The NHA has not yet decided whether it will contract out other support services, such as maintenance jobs, he said.
The NHA did say selected private contractors will be required to interview laid-off workers before considering applications from others. It will also provide workers with reference letters, said Karjaluoto.
It’s an empty promise, said Jessome.
“The Northern Health Authority is trying to wash their hands of this by saying they’ll get interviews. You know, I could probably get an interview for the CEO’s job up there, but it’s not likely they’re going to hire me.”
News of the RFP process caught Jessome off-guard, so she wasn’t able to say exactly how the union will respond. She did say there will likely be a concerted effort to organize workers employed by the contractors.
The first RFP will cover laundry services and will affect 51 FTE jobs. The NHA conducted a request for expressions of interest in the summer. Companies were pre-qualified at that time.
The NHA is currently preparing RFPs for food services and housekeeping throughout the health authority. Those contracts will eliminate 172 and 167 jobs respectively.
The deadline for proposals on the laundry contract is December 3. Deadlines for the other two contracts will be shortly after that date.