Unionized workers are ramping up their fight against the Gallant government's plan to privatize the management of hospital food and cleaning services.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees released a scathing report on Friday listing problems that have come up in facilities where three leading food and cleaning companies have operated.
The so-called "Big Three" companies are Sodex of France, Aramark of the United States and Compass Group of the United Kingdom.
Norma Robinson, the president of CUPE Local 1252, predicts poorer quality food and "deaths from hospital-based infections" if any of the companies is chosen.
And she brushes off the government's assurance that only food and cleaning management will be privatized with unionized employees remaining in place.
"What happens is the management team gets in there and then they privatize the whole system," she says.
The province's Department of Health has not responded to the report.
"As we have not received a copy of the report from CUPE, it is difficult to comment on its contents," said Health Department spokesperson Bruce MacFarlane.
The department hopes to wrap up negotiations with the company that would providing the privatized services in the fall, he said.
Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said CUPE is trying to protect its members' jobs regardless of whether that mean better service.
"These unions will say no to any idea, whether it's good or not, that could possibly affect them. We need to see some real changes to the way services are delivered," Lacey said.
Robinson points to British Columbia bringing back in-house management after a spike in infections and dirty conditions under a private contractor.
'These unions will say no to any idea, whether it's good or not...' - Kevin Lacey, The Canadian Taxpayers Federation
In 2011, the Niagara Health System cancelled its contract with Aramark after an outbreak of C. difficile, the CUPE report says.
Government points to 'significant savings'
Health Minister Victor Boudreau said in April the province had already picked a company and was negotiating a contract. He didn't identify the company.
Boudreau said at the time it would lead to "significant savings" in the health budget and that there would be "an impact" on the number of food and cleaning service jobs.
It's part of the Gallant Liberals' overall push to reduce spending to grapple with a projected $470.6-million deficit, a figure that includes a $150-million contingency cushion.
Robinson says CUPE has asked to meet with Boudreau to present the report, but so far the minister hasn't agreed.
Robinson says the provincial government should lobby the federal government for more health-care money if the system is too expensive.
The union also says there are potential savings, such as unnecessary patient room-to-room transfers within one hospital that cost $2.8 million last year.
A report in 2014 found dirty conditions in three hospitals in Fredericton, Saint John, and Moncton, all of them using public-sector cleaning services at the time.
Robinson says "there have been policies that have been established and they have improved on their targets."
And she says the New Brunswick Health Council has nonetheless reported that New Brunswick scores well on cleanliness and food service.