Edmonton

AHS to lay off 428 laundry workers as it looks to outsource service

Alberta Health Services is looking for contractors to take over its laundry services as the government embarks on a plan to outsource thousands of healthcare-sector jobs to private companies.

About two-thirds of AHS laundry services currently provided by contractors

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says savings from outsourcing AHS laundry services will be reinvested in patient care. (CBC)

Alberta Health Services is looking for contractors to take over its laundry services as the government embarks on a plan to outsource thousands of healthcare-sector jobs to private companies.

AHS issued a request for proposal on Friday seeking a contractor to assume responsibility for its remaining in-house laundry services. The move is expected to result in the layoffs of 428 full-time, part-time and casual workers. AHS and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees both cited the figure.

The proposal comes after Health Minister Tyler Shandro detailed a plan last week by AHS to lay off up to 11,000 employees — mostly in laboratory, cleaning and food services. Those jobs will be outsourced to private companies, a recommendation contained in the Ernst & Young cost-cutting review released in February. 

In a news release, AHS said the laundry transition will save money and avoid the cost of replacing its aging infrastructure. 

"By reinvesting savings from initiatives such as contracting out laundry services into the health system, we can improve patient care and ensure Albertans are provided with the best possible health care," Shandro said in a statement Friday. 

About two-thirds of laundry services are currently provided by a third party, including in Calgary and Edmonton. AHS said the move will eliminate the need to spend $38 million on upgrades to its laundry infrastructure that would otherwise be immediately necessary.

AHS said it "anticipates there will be some opportunities" for employees to work with a new contractor. 

The AUPE, which represents the laundry workers, said the move will upend the lives of its members based at 54 sites across the province.

"Jason Kenney wants to corrode their working conditions, pay, benefits, hours and more," AUPE vice-president Kevin Barry said. "Privatizing laundry also results in lower quality and sometimes unsafe services as staff are forced to cut corners to create profit for the private owners."

The deadline for proposals is Dec. 1 and AHS is expected to pick a contractor by mid-March. 

Laundry service accounts for $60 million of the health authority's $15.4-billion budget, according to the Ernst & Young review.

The report said there had been frequent staff safety "near misses and injuries" due to workarounds from equipment breakdowns. Laundry workers' disabling injury rates are about 60 per cent higher than other AHS staff, according to the review. It estimated AHS would have to spend about $200 million on equipment and infrastructure to maintain operations. 

The request for proposal says the laundry contractors will be responsible for onsite pick-up and delivery, processing, replacement, quality control and inventory management.

"A contracted model will enable a sustainable service, while eliminating risk that our outdated laundry infrastructure poses," said AHS president Dr. Verna Yiu.

In 2015, Sarah Hoffman, health minister in the NDP government, halted an AHS-proposed plan to privatize laundry services outside of Edmonton and Calgary.

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