Unions respond to UCP govt’s reversal on labs

The Alberta government recently announced that they‘re reversing their plan to privatize the delivery of lab services. The unions representing workers affected by the decision are calling it “good news” and a “victory”.

Late last week, the Alberta government announced that they were reversing their previous decision to privatize lab service delivery in the province.

Prior to 2018, lab services in Alberta were primarily conducted by 4 organizations: Calgary Laboratory Services, Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health, and Lamont Health Care Centre.

In the autumn of 2018, just months prior to the provincial election, the NDP government announced that they were consolidating these 4 groups into one larger public organization: Alberta Public Laboratories. The name changed to Alberta Precision Laboratories the following year.

However, just two months after the United Conservative party wrested power away from the incumbent NDP government, they announced they were cancelling the Alberta Public Labs project.

Only 4 month slater, the lobbying firm Canadian Strategy Group filed an application to the Alberta Lobbyist Registry indicating that they had been hired by DynaLIFE, an Edmonton-based private company that had already been providing community lab services in the capital region, as well as in parts of northern and central Alberta, since April 2021.

CSG was filled with UCP donors and former staffers. They were also the same lobbying firm that K-Bro Linen Systems hired just before being awarded the contract to provide all the laundry services for Alberta Health Services.

About a year after CSG filed their initial application, AHS had issued a request for proposals for the private delivery of lab services. Over 30% of community lab services were already being provided by private companies.

It’s not clear how many firms submitted proposals, but AHS ultimately selected DynaLIFE, and the transition over to DynaLIFE providing services province-wide was complete by the end of 2022.

Since then, however, Albertans needing lab results have complained about issues with booking, wait times, and other logistical issues with trying to get lab work through DynaLIFE.

As a result, the UCP government announced that they were reversing course. This was preceded by a decision earlier this month to expand APL services in the Calgary area because patients “are waiting too long to access routine lab services”.

In their most recent announcement, the Alberta government stated that “over the past few months, delays and wait times have made accessing lab services very difficult”.

In neither instance did the UCP government connect the delays and wait times with their decision to privatize lab service delivery. At no point in the two announcements had they taken responsibility for the fiasco or recognize that their decision directly led to this mismanagement.

In that announcement, they said that they had reached an agreement in principle with DynaLIFE for them to “transfer staff, equipment, and property in all regions of the province to Alberta Precision Laboratories”. This process is scheduled to be finish by the end of this year.

Two unions representing worker employed by DynaLIFE, applauded the decision.

Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents the bulk of unionized workers (over 1,100) employed by DynaLIFE, called the decision good news and commended the government for doing what the HSAA had been advocating for over the last 4 years.

“This is good news for our members working in labs across the province and for Albertans facing long waits for test results,” said Leanne Alfaro, HSAA’s vice president.

“We commend the government for making the difficult decision to transition away from for-profit lab services. A lab system that is publicly administered and delivered is in the best interest of Albertans. It’s what HSAA has been advocating for since the cancellation of the lab modernization project in 2019 – a system that puts patients first.”

CUPE Alberta, which represents drivers employed by DynaLIFE to transport lab samples across Southern Alberta, used stronger language, calling this decision a victory for public healthcare.

“This is a victory for public health care and a serious indictment of experiments in privatizing our public services,” said Rory Gill, the president of CUPE Alberta.

“When politicians turn our health care system into a profit-making venture for corporations, they spend as little as possible on front-line services to ensure their shareholders make money. The result is that patient care suffers. Lab services are returning to where they belong—under the umbrella of public health care.”

Alfaro concurred, claiming that HSAA workers “will benefit from a system that doesn’t hamper their abilities to care for people by cutting corners to increase profit”.

Both unions are tired of the chaos that switching between multiple service providers has caused over the last 5 years.

According to Alfaro, HSAA remains “concerned about the impacts of yet another transition on our dedicated lab professionals and Albertan needing lab services”.

The CUPE Alberta media release pointed out that for the CUPE drivers employed by DynaLIFE, this will be the fourth change in ownership they’ve had to endure in recent years. The first was moving from Calgary Laboratory Services to DynaLIFE. That was followed in 2018 with the switch to Alberta Public Laboratories (later renamed Alberta Precision Laboratories). Then of course, moving back to DynaLIFE in 2022, and now returning APL.

Kelly Spence, the president of CUPE Local 8, which represents these driver, said that the drivers are “simply trying to do their jobs, and they don’t deserve the chaos they’ve been put through by the government.”

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

2 replies on “Unions respond to UCP govt’s reversal on labs”

Alberta’s lab staff have been through massive upheaval over the past 5 years. Between the unrest within the labs plus the implementation of Connect Care, many of the technologists, pathologists and assistants who were at or nearing retirement eligibility have pulled the plug, resulting in the loss of many experienced professionals.
I note that in the premier’s comments yesterday, she stated (paraphrasing), “APL will take over all lab services… for now.” She’ll probably try this again down the road, if given a chance.

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