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Steward Notes: Contracting Out

Contracting out leads to job cuts, lower wages, and higher expectations for profit. Here’s how to recognize the warning signs and take action.

Mar 27, 2024

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By Rae Carlson, Communications Staff 

Contracting out, or privatization, is a threat to your job. You may have even heard another AUPE member say, “Privatization means you’re fired!” So, what exactly is contracting out and privatization? 

When a business takes over a workplace through contracting-out or privatization, the business hopes to make lots of money. Only caring about profit means they cut corners and hire as few staff as possible. There is no guarantee they would hire you back even though you were just working the same job. 

“Stewards are leaders on our worksites,” says AUPE Vice-President Curits Jackson, who also chairs the union’s Anti-Privatization Committee. "If you see signs of contracting-out or privatization, it's your responsibility to talk to your co-workers are prepare them to fight for their jobs.” 

Know the signs 

Stewards should keep a watchful eye for tell-tale signs of privatization. Search for your employer online and on social media to see if they are posting about RFPs (Request for Proposals). RFPs allow businesses to bid on projects. In your case, an RFP means your employer is looking for businesses that want to take over your worksite. 

One of the most insidious forms of privatization is known as “public-private partnerships” (P3s). When a government agency is getting ready for privatization, they love to hire big, fancy, public relations companies to write reports about the “benefits” of privatizing public services. This is a big red flag. Another red flag is when management talk about restructuring, outsourcing, or increasing efficiency.  

Gather the evidence 

Monitoring your employer online can reveal their plans for privatization. One advanced tool stewards can use is Google Alerts. A Google Alert can send you an email whenever a new webpage is found referencing your employer. This could help you discover RFPs, keep track of how long job listings stay open, and see if your employer is mentioned in the news.  

You can also set up notifications for other companies in your sector, so that you know when they achieve wage increases or if workers issue a strike notice. Your collective knowledge is your collective power. 

Try to identify any visitors that you see managers showing around your job site. Visitors like these, especially if they look wealthy, may actually represent a business that wants to gather information before taking over your worksite.   

If you are approached by one of these suits, why not gather some information yourself. Ask them “Who are you looking for?” and “What company are you with?” Do not interfere with them, but be sure to report what you learn to your negotiating team and Membership Services Officer. You can also use the anonymous reporting form on AUPE’s website. 

“Stewards are leaders on our worksites. If you see signs of contracting-out or privatization, it's your responsibility to talk to your co-workers are prepare them to fight for their jobs.” 

Curtis Jackson, Vice-President

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Contracting-out and bargaining 

The most effective way to protect yourself from contracting-out is to win job security at the bargaining table. Over 82,000 AUPE members enter collective bargaining in 2024, and shop stewards play a significant role in informing negotiating teams of the issues that matter, including contracting-out and privatization. 

Negotiating teams meet regularly to discuss sector-wide trends and what our employers are trying to do at the bargaining table. A good thing too, as members from across the province recognize the importance of fighting for job security.  

For Alva, a member from High River, negotiating for job security is about sending a clear message to our employers. “One team, one goal,” she says.  

“We were always ‘heroes’,” says Mary Jane, another member from High River, expressing frustration with her employer’s hypocrisy.  

“We are valuable. We are worth everything we are asking for,” says Robin from Canmore. 

Vice-President Jackson echoes these statements. 

“We’ve already seen some wild tactics from this government,” he says. “They think they can get away with secret mandates, but we are not showing up ignorant to the bargaining table. We’ve been told too many times to share in the burden by accepting less. We will not fall for that rhetoric again.  We must fight like hell for job security at the bargaining table.”  

Learn more 

Download AUPE’s Anti-Privatization Manual for more information about warning signs and how to fight back.  

AUPE members can also take in-person steward training at our offices in Calgary and Edmonton. Visit the courses webpage to register for: 

Foundations for Union Stewards

Foundations for Union Stewards 

  • April 3-5, Edmonton  
  • June 4-6, Edmonton 
  • June 18-21, Calgary 
Workplace Power

Workplace Power  

  • April 15/16, Edmonton  
  • April 17/18, Calgary 
  • June 4/5, Calgary 
  • June 11/12, Edmonton 

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