Monday, October 15, 2012

Anti-privatization tactics in seniors' care

Alberta’s government has been slowly privatizing long-term seniors’ care. This includes allowing private operators to run homes as well as contracting out services within public-sector seniors’ homes.

AUPE (the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, representing workers in both public- and private-sector seniors homes) has responded to this in several ways. More traditionally, AUPE has pursued better wages in private-sector homes via a series of labour disputes. In effect, they are attempting to take wages out of competition and make privatization less attractive to the government. As part of this bargaining strategy, the union has characterized the operators as ripping off the taxpayers—in effect casting itself as protecting the public interest. 

More creatively, AUPE has backed a documentary about the terrible food being offered to seniors in public-sector lodges after food preparation was contracted out, centralized and turned into a reheat-and-eat approach. The documentary addressed both the palatability and health-effects of this change. It is a pretty disturbing documentary to view.

A representative comment from a viewer is:
I'd love to lock up all 61 Tory MLA's in the Legislature and feed them this menu. I wonder how long they would tolerate it for themselves. I'd serve it to them for free! I wonder which scum-sucking conservative(s) is(are) benefitting from ripping off seniors in Alberta.
Yikes.The government was eventually embarrassed into reversing this form of contracting out and home-cooked meals will return to seniors lodges as of December, 2012.  There are lots of unique factors at play in this particular instance. But it and the campaign illustrate the potential of publically embarrassing employers and the state into doing the right thing. Things which also yield outcomes beneficial to workers, such as preventing layoffs and avoiding two-tiered wage structures.

-- Bob  Barnetson

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