Manitoba

Future of health authority's laundry facility in Selkirk muddy after minister's comments on jobs

Workers at a Selkirk facility that handles mounds of laundry for Winnipeg's health authority may have to apply for new positions — but they don't know where or even when.

Health minister stokes fear through vague statements about laundry facility job postings, union says

The union representing employees at the WRHA Regional Laundry Services–Selkirk site says they're worried after Manitoba's health minister made comments referring to upcoming job postings. Cameron Friesen's office says no decision has been reached on the facility. (Submitted by MGEU)

Workers at a Selkirk facility that handles mounds of laundry for Winnipeg's health authority may have to apply for new positions — but they don't know where or even when.

Uncertainty shrouds the future of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's laundry facility in the city of Selkirk — one of two it operates, including a Winnipeg facility on Inkster Boulevard.

Recent comments from Health Minister Cameron Friesen have stoked concerns the government may follow through on a recommendation in a 2017 report to close the Selkirk site, forcing its 43 employees to reapply for work elsewhere.

"There is a reasonable suggestion to say, 'You have two laundry services existing 25 kilometres apart — can you make them co-operate better?'" Friesen said in the Manitoba Legislature earlier this month, according to a transcript.

"That was the question. The answer was, yes, you could make them co-operate better by collaboration. There will be jobs posted."

While he didn't explicitly say that the laundry facility will close, Friesen did say that Selkirk employees will be able to apply for the jobs he said will be posted.

"The people who are working in Selkirk are welcome and ... according to their labour agreements, able to actually apply in for consideration for those jobs that will be posted," he said in the legislature.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen has refused to comment explicitly on whether the Selkirk laundry facility will close, but has said jobs will be posted and Selkirk employees will be able to apply. (CBC)

When questioned by CBC News last week, neither Friesen's office or the health authority would say for sure whether the positions he referred to would be at the Winnipeg laundry facility.

Friesen's office said no decision has been reached on the Selkirk facility, but the minister said in a statement the search for greater efficiency in the health-care system has led to a "consideration of changes within the laundry service in the health regions."

A KPMG study of the province's health-care system released in 2017 recommended the Selkirk site's closure with "operational transfer and equipment decommissioning to the Inkster laundry site."

Friesen's comments have only created more uncertainty for Selkirk employees, says Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky.

"The comments he said have definitely created more fear. It's actually really bringing home that there is a real possibility that they are going to close the Selkirk laundry services."

MGEU has sought clarity since Gawronsky met last fall with staff who feared the facility's days were numbered.

Decision already made: MGEU

Gawronsky believes the decision has already been made.

"If it's not official, then why would he have said what he did?" she said in reference to Friesen's comments about new employees.

The province and the health authority need to be clear with their employees, she said.

"Common decency would be that you let people know if they're going to lose their jobs … so that they can start looking at how are they going to support their families."

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, said she thinks the health minister has already decided to close the Selkirk facility. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Staff told her the tonnage of laundry the Selkirk site is cleaning has fallen, and the Inkster facility is taking on additional work, but the health authority denied any change at either location.

If the Selkirk site closes, Gawronsky is worried there won't be enough jobs for the Selkirk employees, and the new positions won't be guaranteed to them.

So is Selkirk Mayor Larry Johannson, who did not know the site — which has operated in the city since 1974 — was at risk of closure until MGEU flagged it.

"Even if it was consolidating and putting these [43] people to work in Winnipeg, I know they probably all wouldn't get jobs. I don't think they would all go, and some can't go," he said.

The Selkirk facility launders six million pounds of soiled linen every year for around 20 clients, the WRHA said. Most of the work is for health-care facilities, but some is for a few private companies as well.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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