Time to fight back against attacks on public-sector workers
The Government of Alberta is looking to outsource facility services at some locations in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, a move that could cost the jobs of up to 38 AUPE members in Local 004.
The government told AUPE this week that it is exploring alternative ways to do the maintenance at the Federal Building in Edmonton, the Spy Hill corrections complex in Calgary, the Michener Centre South in Red Deer and the Edmonton Law Courts.
The work is currently done by people including maintenance service workers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians.
What does this outsourcing announcement mean for you?
So far, it means the government is looking at outsourcing. As part of your collective-bargaining agreement, the employer must consult with the union prior to making any decision.
It seems the government wants to move quickly because it proposed four dates to start meetings with union representatives before the end of January.
Outsourcing means that the affected workers will lose their jobs and might have to apply to whichever corporation is given the contract to do the building maintenance, but for lower pay and fewer benefits. There is usually no obligation for the contractor to hire existing employees.
Workers could no longer belong to the Public Service Pension Plan (PSPP), which offers a secure and modest retirement income. Private companies rarely offer pension plans, and when they do, they are not as secure and provide less income.
Is outsourcing likely?
The UCP government is ideologically committed to privatizing as many public-sector jobs as quickly as it can. This government thinks all public-sector workers like you are paid too much and doesn’t like that workers belong to unions.
In October, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the government was pushing ahead with privatization of laboratory services, in-patient food, environmental services and supply-chain procurement. These moves would kill 9,700 support jobs at AHS.
As part of that plan, Alberta Health Services (AHS) issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) in October for private businesses to take over hospital laundry at 54 sites across the province. They expect to pick a vendor by March 15, about two months from now, so it can eliminate 428 jobs.
Last month, the Royal Alberta Museum revealed it was eliminating 28 caretaking, maintenance, electrician, and plumbing positions. The employer, the Government of Alberta, plans to privatize the positions.
Meanwhile, the government and AHS are also looking at privatizing all continuing-care operations run by Carewest and CapitalCare and at outsourcing the work in internal departments including food services, transportation and pharmacy.
Such moves show that the government threat to these jobs is real and will grow. If your jobs aren’t on the chopping block now, they may be soon.
Why is outsourcing a bad idea?
Quite simply, outsourcing often costs more, not less, than doing the work in house. It leads to lower quality work. And there is little transparency or accountability in how public money is being spent, so it’s difficult for the public to gauge whether they are getting value for money.
In 2013, the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta studied the outsourcing of maintenance of government-owned facilities. What it found was that the government kept financial details hidden.
“This report illustrates that in the matter of public infrastructure, delivery matters; it matters who is managing and maintaining our public buildings and infrastructure. Using private contractors reduces transparency and accountability and the evidence regarding the cost implications for Albertans is unclear. Given the amount of public spending and the volume of assets in question, these are important concerns. To rely on private delivery of infrastructure maintenance is to risk the mismanagement of infrastructure funds and capital assets.”
After Saskatchewan privatized the building and maintenance of school buildings in 2014, a review by the Ministry of Education showed no evidence of lower costs with a private provider. In Nova Scotia, the auditor general criticized the practice of sub-contracting.
Meanwhile, a 2016 report from the Columbia Institute Centre for Civic Governance shows that local governments that had outsourced services were now moving to bring them back in house.
Why? Because the promised privatization cost-savings often failed to materialize. Most found that it cost less to make services public and provided better quality control and more flexibility.
Because private contractors pay less and offer fewer benefits, they cause higher staff turnover, they have to spend more money on training and they are more inefficient because staff aren’t as familiar with the special needs of the complex buildings that you maintain.
Maintaining a corrections facility or law courts is very different from maintaining an office building. There are safety and security issues particular to these operations.
Maintaining a care centre for people with disabilities is also different, with the added complexities of working with residents and health-care workers.
Private contractors have to make a profit. There are only two ways to do that. Reduce costs by cutting wages and benefits or reduce the level of service, but usually both. Outsourcing is simply a way to take money from workers and divert it to corporate profits.
Join the fight
The employer had asked for four meetings between Jan. 19 and Jan. 28, which shows the speed at which it wants to move on this issue.
AUPE is required to have consultations with the employer. We have agreed to schedule the first meeting on Jan. 28.
We will be arguing that outsourcing is bad for workers and will be worse for the Albertans who rely on the services provided at these facilities.
However, we need to do more. It’s time for Local 004 members to join the fight back against the government’s attacks on workers and your jobs.
Please contact AUPE organizers Trevor Zimmerman at email@example.com or Madelaine Sommers at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can get involved.
Please stay tuned to the AUPE website at www.aupe.org and your emails for updates.