Sunday, January 23, 2005

Laundry Workers Fight Privatization

Around the world Laundry and Custodial workers are the 'canaries in the mine' of public sector privatization.What happens to them will happen to you.

A question was posted on
H-Labour Discussion about the history of Laundry workers in the US. Having written and researched the privatization of Laundry Workers in Alberta's hosptials I responded with a note and the links below. I expanded the links to include a wide variety of countries to show the battle of laundry workers against privatization of is world wide.

The privatization of the work of this largely immigrant and female workforce is widespread through out Canada and around the world. Even when unionized these workers remain the lowest paid in the workforce. They become interchangable workers, being the same workers who are forced into low waged jobs in the private sector, if their public sector jobs are privatized they end up being the benificaries of a reduction in wages. In the UK and other countries these same workers also are part of the underground economy, as illegal immigrants they are paid under the table and work the same jobs as their 'legal' counterparts.

Overall these jobs in hotels, hospitals, schools, etc. are done by 'invisible workers', when we think of staff in schools or hospitals we refer to the professionals or para-professionals in those institutions, teachers, doctors, nurses, teacher aides,etc. We do not consider the importance or impact of those who
'clean healthy built environments'. Instead these invisible workers are the first to be laid off, cut back or privatized. They and their jobs reflect the 'canaries in the mine' of capitalism, if a move is afoot to privatized or contract out their invisible services will be the first to go.

But laundry workers have fought back, despite the government, the privateers and even their own unions. The Calgary Laundry workers, largely immigrant women, held a
wildcat strike in 1995 to save their jobs, it almost led to a General Strike of workers not only in Calgary but across Alberta. A General Strike that would have done more to stop the Klein government then the marches and demonstrations in the streets did.

It was the power of women workers, once again, who having nothing to lose actually fought against the contracting out of their jobs. The union representing provincial workers
AUPE and the national public sector union CUPE both had jurisdicition in the hospitals, and like the government the leadership of the unions was terrified of a general strike. So they capitulated to the government, and accepted the death by a thousand cuts, the eventual contracting out of these workers jobs.

Jobs that were lost to K-Bro an international company located in Edmonton. K-Bro eight years later is benefiting from the B.C. governments largese, and the unions protesting the privatization had an opportunity to nip it in the bud in 1995. But they are terrified to use the power of the General Strike and once again as in Alberta, on the verge of a
General Strike in B.C. last summer, the unions packed up and went back to the table to .....get what? Nothing. Another sell out.

Contracting Out (privatization, outsourcing) is the beginning of the process of casualization/flexible work at all levels of the organization except administration and management. It is the management theory of just in time production/delivery developed by the Japanese state capitalist corporations after studying the works of U.S. engineer Demming and his Total Quality Management (TQM) theories.This coincides with increasing reliance on technology to impose more teleworking, home working and contracting out of IT services at the higher end, again resulting in lowering of wages and reducing organizational costs of benefits and pensions. What begins with laundry workers ends up with part time nurses, etc.

The great irony of contracting out is that it actually began over two decades ago in the computer industry and IT services, where it still dominates today. It began with having a just in time delivery process for production of semi conductors produced by low waged immigrant women workers who were not unionized, then led to the idea that IT services themselves were best delivered not by inhouse IT specialists but by IT corporations. Today outsourcing of IT services is the norm. However in Canada, where the largest outsourcing of IT has been done by the Federal Government this has led to massive cost overruns as well as outright theft by IT contractors. The billion dollar Canadian Firearms Registry boondogle is just one example of how expensive outsourcing can be.

Outsourcing was part and parcel of the 'Reinventing Government' movement of the ninties, the creation of lean mean, government, replacing government delivery of services with the contracting out of those services for private delivery. It's the new bugaboo of CNN's Lou Dobbs, who sees American jobs going to China and India, however he didn't go on a tirade when American corporations laid off workers and contracted out their work in America nor did he oppose the privatization of government services all of which logically and eventually lead to outsourcing work abroad. And he goes on nativistic tirades about illegal immigrants, ignoring the fact that they are needed for working inthe new just in time contracted out form of globalized capitalism in the era of free trade. If there were no jobs available there would be no immigrants, illegal or otherwise. It's not that Canadians or Americans or Brits don't want these jobs, it's the fact they are low waged jobs and they certainly are not what one considers 'careers', which now includes many IT jobs such as call centres. And in some cases this low waged work such as nannies, are only available to immigrant women who are willing to agree to live in indentured servitude, slavery by any other name. Contracting out profits from low wages despite rhetoric about better service delivery, efficiencies, or quality etc. This is the real secret of this new age of global capitalism; privatization and outsourcing. See: Global Labour in the Age of Empire.

K-Bro is based in Edmonton Alberta Canada though it has venture capitalist shareholders in Boston. They have benefited the most from this which is why the
IWW Edmonton Branch issued a call out to labour unions to oppose K-Bro and the privatization of laundery workers in B.C.

Unfortunately privatization of support services, laundry and caretaking, did not get criticized in the
Romanow report on health care commisioned by the Federal Government. In fact Romanow, ever the social democrat approved of contracting these "non-essential" service, which is ironic because if they ever went on strike they would be deemed as 'essential', as Romanow did when he was Premier of Sasakatchewan.

All the reports on Medicare in Canada have allowed for the contracting out of these support services. They have not called for a reduction of administration, or putting doctors on salary, or reducing the university qualifications for a basic GP degree. Nope these might break the doctors guild monopoly they have on services. Easier to pick on the immigrant workforce, they are replaceable and interchangable. The same workers unionized today, will be working tommorow for contractors.

The Edmonton IWW criticized the Romanow report for these shortcomings
as did unions representing public sector workers. And as we can see from the result of the privatization putch in B.C. , "Alberta set's the agenda for the rest of Canada". Like Alberta (which has been ruled by a one party dictatorship for 33 years under the Conservatives, and a decade under the Premier privateer Ralph Klein) Gordon Campbells Liberals ( an unholy alliance of the Old Socreds -Social Credit-Federal Reform/Alliance/Tory party members, the B.C. Conservative Party and the B.C. Liberals) won an unprecidented 98% of the seats, decimating the NDP and leaving an opposition of two! With this mandate, the Liberal Government went on a privatization spree, especillay in Health Care using the old deficit/debt hysteria to claim that health care costs were out of control. They also sold off B.C. Rail and are looking at privatizing liquour sales, and hydro.

This is already the case in Alberta, where electrical deregulation has created increasing profits for electrical utilities and higher costs for consumers including industrial and farming consumers (businesses) and the governments liquor board was privatized, stock and buildings sold below cost, and wiping out small distributors as the market ineviatbly moves towards monopolization. The favorite argument of the right is that the State has a monopoly on public services and privatization increases competition and lowers prices. The facts show otherwise, private contractors lead to increased costs over time and monopolization of the market. That old Karl Marx was right on, again.

K-Bro purchased the actual laundry equipment from the University of Alberta Hospital, the Royal Alexandera Hospital in Edmonton, and hospitalis in Calgary at cut rate fire sale prices. They have used this model for privatization across Canada and into the United States. They not only provide the workers and their own laundry equipment, they make sure their monopoly is maintained by stripping hospitals of their taxpayer funded laundry equipment so they don't face in house competition. And it makes it harder if not fiscally impossible for hospitals to return to in house laundry services if they have to purchase new equipment. Where hospitals have maintained their own laundry equipment they eventually returned to in house services, finding that the contractors were more expensive, and increased their charges for services (surprize, surprize).

To add insult to injury, as the B.C. government forced opening of collective agreements with HEU, the International Woodworkers of America( IWA) began raiding public sector unions, hand in paw with the privateeers. See Has the IWA, the flagship of B.C. labour unionism, signed a yellowdog contract with a multinational British health services corporation, the Compass Group?

Once again business unionism proved it was a business first and a workers organization second. Facing declining membership and reduced dues, the IWA looked at the privatization of laundry workers as an opportunity to gain membership and dues. It created an unneccasary second front battle between the unions as the workers were getting screwed by the government. Laundry workers were privatized and those who joined IWA took a 50% cut in pay to save their jobs. Between a rock and a hard place they had no other choice when sold out by a business union. The declining fortunes of the IWA led to it raid HEU and then to do what all capitalist organizations eventually do when faced with an economic decline; mergers and acquisitions. The result was the IWA has merged with the USWA the Steelworkers.

Workers Air Boston's Dirty Laundry... Until September 1995 when Royal purchased K-Bro, another industrial laundry offeringhigher wages and benefits, Royal workers received no sick days, holidays ...

M & A Divestitures Advisory Services

BG Affiliates LLC is a private equity investment firm that provides capital to high quality, middle-market operating companies.

Berkshire's no tortoise, but slow and steady wins the day

Edgar Search of SEC on Berkshire Reality co.

Canadian Corportation Profile K-Bro, Industry Canada

City of Toronto Report on K-Bro In September 1998, K-Bro terminated its agreement with the City of Toronto. As a result of the circumstances surrounding the termination, the parties have exchanged correspondence identifying areas of financial dispute. In addition, when K-Bro terminated the agreement, their unions filed complaints with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The City of Toronto is a respondent to these proceedings.

City of Toronto-The Community and Neighbourhood Services Committee recommends the adoption of the following report (July 16, 1998) on K-Bro


1995 Health Care Reform in Alberta by the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA)

Laundry: Where are we at? Calgary Health Region 1998


CUPE on Privatization of Laundry Services in B.C. 2002

BC Legislature Hansard Debate on Privatization of Laundry Services

BCNU on contracting out laundry work to K-Bro

Health Authority short-sheets laundry workers Chilliwack Times

THREATENING OUR RIGHT TO HEALTH CARE: Contracting Out Support Services

Swept away Vancouver Courier

Health care: American connection in hospital laundering

Formal FOI appeal launched to force release of laundry privatization deal

Vancouver Sun: Sodexho Blacklisting Union Members? - 5/4/02

This story comes from a Colorado university student labour web site where the French company Sodexho is attempting to take over laundry services.
Sodexho is another large scale privateer who provides support staff services, custodial and laundry, etc., for universities, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. and have been the beneficiaries of State funded contracts thus allowing workers as taxpayers to pay for the contracting out of their jobs and for the use of worker/taxpayer funds to promote low wage work...makes a lot of sense.... to capitalists and their right wing think the rest of us working folks we are being asked to pay and pay and pay while watching our jobs be privatized. The New Deal: public funding of private profit.

Hospital workers deserve higher pay than hotel employees: economist

Do comparisons between hospital support workers and hospitality workers make sense?by
Marjorie Cohen

Destroying Pay Equity: The effects of privatizing health care in British Columbia by Marjorie Cohen

Council of Canadians AGM October 25, 2003 BC's Experience in Privatization

Taped phone calls reveal health service contractors vowing to fire, blacklist thousands of health workers in first wave of Liberals' hospital privatization

BC Privatization Agenda Exposed -Working TV reveals online the taped phone calls

Pink slips and gin and tonics

Breaking Contracts

Environmentalists slam FHA scheme to ship four million pounds of hospital laundry to Calgary

Privatizing hospital support services B.C. Teacher Magazine

Northern Directions Health Care contracting out support staff

Despite critical nursing shortage Filipino Health Workers in Canada May Lose Jobs

The Real Story (sic) on the Hospital Employees' Union Strike BC Liberal Government Caucus Briefing Notes

Quality Reports from Vancouver Hospital Authorities 2004
As part of managment strategies around privatization is their counterpart in the Team concept of TQM, Total Qaulity Management, that is doing quality reports on the contractors. However they have no base data to go from, that is they DID NOT do quality reports prior to privatization. Here are the reports on K-Bro for Laundry services and
Aramark for custodial services. Aramark is a large American service contractor, orginally owning hotels and operating hospitality services- see Marjorie Cohens work above on the difference between cleaning hospitals and cleaning in the hospitality industry.

Satisfaction is always a subjective matter, what is clean to one person is not clean to another. Whether cleaning a room or laundry. What these stats show is that cleaning times have decreased, thus saving money, and any savings made has been only because the hospitals no longer have to pay wages, benefits etc. directly. The savings end up being reletevaly small while the reduction in work time for cleaning clearly will have a long term impact of leaving rooms dirtier and dirtier.

Clean Hospitals Prevent Disease

Health Reform Cutting costs at patients' and workers' expense

Workers Who Care A Health Care Workers' Roundtable Our Times Fall/Winter 2002

SARS & NEW NORMALS Health and Hospitality Workers Fight Back Our Times Summer 2003

SARS spread aided by contracting out hospital cleaning and laundry, says head of Taiwan's disease control agency

Follow Alberta and B.C.
Liberal government plan to slash hospital workers' wages and contract-out jobs will hurt patient care CUPE PRESS RELEASE November 26, 2004

Anybody but the ADQ: unions

Does NOT follow the privateers lead
Union commends government for laundry decision


Among the Most Exploited?: Fair Labor Standards Act and Laundry Workers
Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) on June 25, 1938, the last major piece of New Deal legislation. The act outlawed child labor and guaranteed a minimum wage of 40 cents an hour and a maximum work week of 40 hours, benefiting more than 22 million workers. Although the law helped establish a precedent for the Federal regulation of work conditions, conservative forces in Congress effectively exempted many workers, such as waiters, cooks, janitors, farm workers, and domestics, from its coverage

Field Service Company Soldiers take pride in their work In Iraq soldiers who support combat troops in the field find themselves working beside private contractors doing laundry work. In this forthcoming article from the US Field Infantry the soldiers who do the laundry raise the same issue as their counterparts in civilan life: they provide better services and quality than the private contractors. This report from troops in Iraq show the extent of the privatization of war that the US government has engaged in. See my article on the privatization of war.

When the boss is Uncle Sam

State WORKERS /State WAGES: North Carolina

Think Big about the Living Wage

Alameda County Superior Court rules that laundry workers claims for unpaid wages may go forward

California Government Code SECTION 19130-19134 Contracting Out

"Privatization, Labor-Management Relations, and Working Conditions for Lower-Skilled Workers of Color" by Immanuel Ness & Roland Zullo July/August 2003 issue of Poverty & Race

Hotel Laundry Lockout Ends December 2004

GAO report on Contracting out Support Services for Veterans Affairs


Bring It BACK!
Privatized jobs return to the public sector as governments discover the flaws of contracting out.

Clean Sweep Laundry Workers Win Union Recognition, Contract

Subcontracting Med Center duties is dirty business

Dirty Laundry Literally and figuratively, the UCSF-Stanford hospital merger gets fouler every day

The two-tier workforce: an IPPR briefing

The textile maintenance markets UK Competition Commission

Information on assessment of Government contracts


Union welcomes Greens ERB Paper on contracting-out

Sue Bradford Speech on Employment Relations Bill Tuesday, 8 August 2000, 5 Speech: Green Party

Government hospital support workers in Western Australia have borne the brunt of cuts to the health system over the past 8 years.

This paper was written by Gerard Greenfield for the 6th IUF Asia Pacific Conference for unions organising in the hotel, restaurant, catering and tourism (HRCT) sector, held in Manila in May 1999.


eugene plawiuk said...

Web Posted | Jan 25 2005 06:47 AM EST
CBC News

Hospital renovations might be linked to baby's death

MONTREAL - Officials at Ste. Justine hospital have moved a dozen babies born prematurely from the neo-natal intensive care unit to another area after the death of a 29-week-old baby.

The hospital says the baby died on Jan. 10 from an infection likely triggered by mould spores in the hospital.

Tests to determine the exact cause of death are underway and an analysis of the air in the hospital has been done.

The area where the neo-natal unit is located is undergoing renovations but the hospital says it's too early to connect that to the baby's death.

Now, large sheets of plastic separate Ste. Justine's intensive care unit in two while an intense cleaning takes place.
Another example of the importance of laundry and cleaning staff in our hospitals. They do work that is essential for protecting public health and safety, and should be respected as such.

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pedro velasquez said...

Health care workers on Canada’s west coast are getting a taste of “sweetheart sportsbook contracts” that favor multinational corporations over workers’ rights, and the Canadian labor movement is divided on how to respond. Last year, the far-right provincial government in British Columbia rammed through legislation gutting the contract protections enjoyed by hospital and bet nfl nursing home workers-including successor rights (rights that guarantee that jobs will remain union jobs)-so that they could privatize thousands of health care jobs. The change affected food service workers, housekeepers, laundry workers, and security guards at hospitals and nursing homes across the province, most of sportsbook whom are represented by the Hospital Employees’ Union, a wing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Canada’s largest union. Most of these workers are women, and many of them are immigrants and workers of color.

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