Rally to stop hospital laundry privatization in Nelson

Rally to stop hospital laundry privatization in Nelson

Hospital laundry employees and supporters marched to City Hall to raise awareness of Interior Health's move to privatize laundry services.

Hospital laundry employees and their union president rallied together as they marched down Nelson’s Baker Street to City Hall in a collective voice against the privatization of hospital laundry services.  The rally is to save in-house hospital laundry services and jobs in Nelson. The colourful and vocal group garnered support prompting honks and cheers from many people driving by.

Below: Hospital Employees’ Union president Victor Elkins, joined Sophia Dricos, a Kootenay Lake hospital laundry employee, in the rally against Interior Health’s move towards privatizing the hospital laundry services in Nelson and 10 other BC communities. Tamara Hynd photos

After the rally reached city hall, Elkins and three local hospital laundry workers, Mike Pearce, Al Chatten and Jeff Sheloff, addressed the crowd, as did city councillor Michael Dailly and BCGEU representative Henny Hanegraaf.

Kootenay Lake Hospital laundry worker Sophia Dricos organized the event. She has worked in laundry service for 29 years, 19 of which have been at the Nelson Hospital.

“I’m doing this because we want to keep our jobs,” said Dricos. “I really want this government to stop the privatization of public services because it’s the government doing this, not Interior Health.”

Hospital Employees Union president Victor Elkins was there to support the regional service.

Elkins said Nelson hospital employees and the local union have been provincial leaders in rallying against Interior Health’s move. Both Elkins and Dricos said the Nelson council has been behind the union’s efforts from the beginning. Elkins said Nelson was the first of several councils to come on board and that has made a difference. Since then other local governments in Kamloops, Vernon, Williams Lake, Summerland and 100 Mile House have raised concerns about privatizing their hospital laundry and the subsequent job losses in their communities.

Elkins said since the privatization of services began in the lower mainland in 2007, the payments for private laundry contracts has grown by $23 million, a 170 per cent increase. He added it wouldn’t make sense to transport tonnes of laundry out of the West Kootenay, including the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

If contracted out, the laundry services and 175 family-supporting jobs – including 17 in Nelson – could be transferred to the Lower Mainland or Alberta, where private contractors bidding on the work are located.

In mid-May, HEU laundry workers presented a petition with more than 12,400 signatures of support to NDP MLAs, who tabled the petition in the B.C. legislature.

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jeff Sheloff and Michael Pearce’s names.)

Shelley Bridge, regional vice-president of the Hospital Employees’ Union, speaking to the crowd that rallied in front of Nelson City Hall on Saturday.