Food service workers at Squamish General Hospital and Hilltop House will soon be looking elsewhere for jobs.
The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCHA) will be handing out dismissal forms to the hospital's seven full-time dietary staff, eight casual employees and four cooks on or before June 4, 2004.
"They've told us that June 4 will be our final day but it could be even sooner than that," said Hospital Employees Union (HEU) local vice-president Barb Patura.
"It could be earlier because since we are a smaller facility, they only have to give us 60 days notice from the day the pink slip is given."
The VCHA has already handed out notices to end employment contracts to food service employees at Vancouver General Hospital, Lions Gate Memorial Hospital in North Vancouver and Sechelt General Hospital.
The impending job losses come as a result of the VCHA's attempt to reduce operating costs in hospitals and extended care facilities across the province. The VCHA expects to shave an estmated $10 million annually off of the current $34 million budget for patient and retail food services.
In an effort to keep their jobs and to help save money, Squamish hospital staff agreed to numerous pay cuts and loss of benefits, and presented a proposal to the VCHA before the closing deadline of Oct. 29. A survey was given to employees which suggested a proposal for several different means to adjust their current contracts. Employees were asked to vote on concessions including rolling back wages $3 an hour, giving up a week's vacation time, capping sick time at 12 days per year, giving up marriage leave and special leave, returning to a 37.5-hour work week and others.
Apparently the contract adjustment wasn't good enough for the VCHA, which has awarded the food service contract to a private company.
"We gave them a good proposal but I don't know why they didn't go with us," said Patura, who is also a long-time hospital employee.
"They won't even tell us who is replacing us, I don't know why they're keeping it so hush-hush."
"We haven't issed any layoff notices in Squamish and we won't for a while," said Vivianne Zanocco, Media Relations Officer at the VCHA. "We won't do that until we get closer to the implememntation. We don't have a contract signed yet with a private company."
A severance package will only be offered to those employees who have put in 10 years of service or more. According to the VCHA, wages are the primary reason why they are seeking to open operations for health care services to the private sector. Currently, full-time employees at Hilltop are making between $18-20 per hour. A private employer would see that wage significantly decreased to about $11-12 per hour.
For workers at the hospital, morale has been anything but positive throughout the whole process.
"I'd say we're all devastated," said Patura. "Everybody processes the decision differently. Some people have an idea of what they want to do afterwards but some people are totally lost."
According to Patura, VCHA has also put out tenders for the privatization of stores and the laboratory, as well as medical records and maintenance.
"It's just a matter of time before they privatize everything non-medical. There will be no more jobs left in Squamish."