EDMONTON – The United Conservative Party’s plans to privatize Alberta’s hospital laundry services is a dirty deal for patients, workers and the public purse, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) vice-president Bonnie Gostola said Wednesday.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney says if his party forms government after the next election, he will set his sights on privatizing laundry services across the province, which he claims would save money. But the past has shown that when the private sector takes on a public service, it becomes more costly and less efficient.

In fact, AUPE members have reported that laundry services that have already been contracted out in Alberta have been inconsistent and at times, substandard.

“Private companies are driven by profits and their bottom line. Too often this results in below adequate services being delivered to the Albertans who are counting on quality care,” said Gostola, who chairs the union’s anti-privatization committee. “There is nothing efficient or effective about using public dollars to subsidize a private company to deliver public services.”

Kenney used Saskatchewan’s experiment with privatization as an example for his plan, but a closer look reveals the troubles that arose as a result. After hospital laundry services were privatized in Saskatchewan, news reports described incidents where medical sharps and other debris were found in so-called “clean” laundry returned by the private contractor, K-Bro Linen Systems Inc., which has a monopoly in that province.

Gostola said laundry services shouldn’t be seen as separate from front-line health care.

“Our members know that laundry services affect health care patients directly, and the reports we’ve seen from Saskatchewan highlight that. These services aren’t an afterthought; they’re a vital part of the system and we must ensure they are properly funded and protected,” she said.

Gostola added that AUPE members were disappointed to learn of this plan through a media announcement, since the UCP has been given several opportunities to communicate its policies to AUPE members over the past year, including byelection questionnaires and an invite to attend the union’s annual Convention, which was declined.

“Our members are hard-working Albertans, and they are looking for honesty from political leaders about policies that will affect them, their livelihoods and the services they provide,” Gostola said. “With Alberta’s economy recovering, throwing people out of work will only slow that recovery down.”

AUPE is Alberta’s largest union, representing more than 95,000 members across the province, including half who work in health care.