Albertans left wondering who to believe
Last October 13, as the second wave of COVID-19 was firmly taking hold, Health MinisterTyler Shandro released details of Alberta Health Services (AHS) plans to lay off up to 11,000 employees — mostly in laboratory, cleaning and food services. His plan to outsource those jobs to private companies was recommended in the AHS cost-cutting review presented by Ernst & Young in February.
Not even two weeks later, Minister Shandro was walking back those remarks. He told reporters on October 28 that out-sourcing likely wouldn’t happen until the pandemic was brought under control, with plans to outsource laundry and linens in 2022 and food services and housekeeping in 2022-23.
The same day he wrote an e-mail quoted by an Edmonton Journal columnist, “I emphasize, new contracts will take several years to implement; the changes likely won’t happen ‘in the pandemic’ at all. The exact timelines depend on the RFPs but AHS is planning for the laundry and lab contracts to be in place in 2022 — housekeeping and food services will more likely take until 2023 or 2024.”
AHS General Support Services (GSS) members who took him at his word breathed a sigh of relief. It turns out taking this minister at his word might have been an error in judgement.
Despite Minister Shandro’s public assurances to the contrary, AHS has bulldozed ahead with its privatization plans. In November, they issued a Request for Proposals seeking contractors for laundry and linen services stating that the targeted date for the selection of a contractor is March 15, 2021.
On November 27, 2020, AUPE wrote to AHS seeking clarification over this apparent contradiction in what the minister was saying and what Alberta Health Services was doing. We received no response. In our follow-up correspondence on December 8, we advised that if we did not receive a response by December 15, we would take the matter to the Labour Relations Board (LRB). AHS responded by asking for our sources which we provided.
On December 21, 2020, we received a response. We were referred back to the AHS Performance Review Proposed Implementation Plan. That document states that claimed savings for contracting out linen services are to commence in April 2021. We had asked if this was still AHS’s plan or if the Minister’s statements were accurate, because both could not be true simultaneously.
According to Alberta Health Services, however, neither the Minister of Health’s remarks to the press gallery nor an e-mailed statement to a journalist should be considered a “public statement”.
If AHS is suggesting that Albertans cannot rely on statements made by the Health Minister to the legislature press gallery and in writing to a journalist, we’ve got a problem. AUPE is deeply troubled that in the middle of a pandemic, when clear communication is key, it appears that AHS and the Alberta Health ministry are unable to keep their stories straight.
As AUPE members do everything they can to keep Albertans safe from this deadly virus, they should not have to be worrying about whether or not they’ll have a job in a few months. All Albertans should be concerned that AHS is moving full steam ahead on privatization of our health system while the Health Minister is claiming the plan is on hold.
AUPE’s Organizing Department is working on the next stages of our Fight Back campaign and will keep you posted in future updates. In the meantime, it’s fair for members and all Albertans to wonder just who can be trusted to tell the truth about health care.