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October 21, 2014 - No. 84

October 27 Alberta By-Elections

All Out to Defend the Modern Rights to
Health Care and Seniors' Care
-- An Election Issue

HSAA members organized information pickets across Alberta, October 16, 2014. (HSAA)

October 27 Alberta By-Elections
All Out to Defend the Modern Rights to Health Care and Seniors' Care
-- An Election Issue

The Clash of Rights
Stop the Privatization of Edmonton Hospital Labs -- An Election Issue!
- Peggy Morton
The Right to Bargain Terms of Employment Is an Election Issue
More Fraudulent Claims by the Prentice Government

Coming Events
Health Care Workers Rally at Jim Prentice's Calgary Office
All-Candidates Forum on Health Care for the Edmonton-Whitemud Constituency


October 27 Alberta By-Elections

All Out to Defend the Modern Rights to Health Care
and Seniors' Care -- An Election Issue

Health care workers, professionals and seniors, and their organizations are in action to oppose the Prentice government's wrecking of public health care. They are taking a stand against the privatization of Edmonton and area health care lab services and seniors' care, and attacks on the rights of health care workers and refusal of employers to bargain in good faith. Privatization, attacks on workers rights and refusal to bargain in good faith are wrecking of public healthcare.

Wrecking is also taking place through disinvestment in public health care, which the government attempts to cover up using fraudulent announcements of supposed fixes for the problems it continues to create. The Alberta government claims to increase health care budgets every year but is actually reducing them by failing to even invest in health care at a rate to cover inflation plus population growth. In addition, when services are privatized, the private owners seize the added-value created by health care workers, which then cannot be reinvested in the health care system or other public services.

The problems are well-known: long waits for emergency treatment, surgery and specialist appointments, over-crowded emergency rooms, and a crisis for frail seniors who need modern and humane seniors' care including nursing home or long-term care. Health care workers face attacks on their wages and working conditions and their right to security in retirement. Union-busting to deprive workers of their defence organizations is also increasing, most recently at Shepherd's Care in Edmonton.

In the by-elections on October 27, a defeat for the PCs and keeping Wildrose out will contribute to blocking the wrecking of public health care, seniors' care and public services and will be a resounding No to Austerity! Now is the time to step up the work to defeat the PCs and keep Wildrose out. Start a phone tree, and talk to family, three friends or co-workers and ask them to do the same to encourage everyone who lives in the ridings where the by-elections are taking place to take a stand against the PC/Wildrose austerity agenda in the October 27 by-elections.

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The Clash of Rights

Health care workers and their unions, and seniors and their organizations continue to resist the attacks on their rights. Their resistance plays a crucial role in blocking the wrecking of public health care. An increasing number of physicians are speaking out, exposing the fraudulent announcements of the government and standing up for their patients. This resistance represents the conviction of Canadians that governments must take up their responsibility to provide the right to health care, and security and dignity in retirement with a guarantee.

The neo-liberal agenda is clashing with the modern demand for a society in which rights are provided with a guarantee. Health care and seniors' care are modern rights for all, rights that people have by virtue of being human. The old outlook that the right to private profit should prevail over the rights of the actual producers and the public interest is clashing with the demand for a modern society based on affirming and guaranteeing the rights of all, not just those with wealth and privilege.

The clash of rights - the rights which belong to people by virtue of being human vs. monopoly right is a fight to remove the block to the development of society. The neo-liberal agenda considers health care and everything else as a market in which private interests must be guaranteed the "right" to seize as their private profit the added-value created by those who are the actual producers of goods and services.

The aim of these monopolies is to increase the return on their investment in the shortest possible time, which propels them to attack the rights of health care workers, degrade health care services and demand that the state guarantee their profits, leading to yet more plunder of the public treasury by private interests. Health care workers who have skill, knowledge, and experience are blocked from solving problems while the governments representing monopoly right keep on wrecking even what has been established, such as the Edmonton and area public health care lab services and seniors' care.

The development of public health care was an important step forward in Canadian nation-building. But today the global monopolies are engaged in nation-wrecking and destruction of the assets built up by the working people in a feverish attempt to prolong their system and retain their class privilege. This life and death fight against retrogression and privilege is not only to defend the social programs we have, but also of necessity, to fight to bring into being a modern society fit for human beings.

The duty of the working class and its allies is to organize consciously a battle to defend the rights of all and win their empowerment over economic and political affairs. A modern public authority and system of democratic governance with the power to deprive the forces of obsolete class privilege of their power to deprive people of their rights and block democratic renewal must be brought into being.

Stop the Wrecking of Public Health Care!
Block the Privatization of Edmonton and Area Public Health Care Lab Services
and Seniors' Care!
Defeat the PC/Wildrose Austerity Agenda in the October 27 By-elections!

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Stop the Privatization of Edmonton Hospital Labs
-- An Election Issue!

Sonic Healthcare announced on October 16 that it has been selected by the Prentice government as the "preferred proponent" for the privatization of hospital laboratory services in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Negotiations will now begin for the final contract to build a $3 billion "super lab" in Edmonton. The announcement was immediately met with the demand to stop this outrageous pay the rich scheme. Everyone should work to defeat the health minister Stephen Mandel in Edmonton-Whitemud, as well as all the Tory and Wildrose privatizers running in the by-elections. Let's go all out to force the PC government to reverse its decision and instead build publicly owned and controlled medical labs.

The private monopoly Sonic Healthcare is Australia's largest provider of medical testing, with fifty subsidiaries and 26,000 employees operating in eight countries. This will be its first contract in Canada. Sonic's rapid growth shows the extent to which putting labs in private monopoly hands drains value away from the health care system, community and Canada, and into the coffers of private monopolies.

Sonic was a failing penny stock mining company when it purchased Douglass Laboratories Pty Ltd in 1987. Since the 1990s, when private interests began to gobble up the Australian health care system, Sonic has grown from a company whose shares were almost worthless to a corporation with annual revenue of close to $3.5 billion, net profits of $385 million in 2013-14, and a 14.9 per cent return on equity. This wealth in private hands all comes from the value produced by lab workers, and seized by the owners of Sonic and unavailable for public use. The Edmonton super-lab, like Sonic's other schemes, is to be built and operated with Sonic's expected level of private profit guaranteed by the state.

The contract with Alberta Health Services (AHS) is so profitable that Sonic expects initial annual gross income in excess of $200 million, an amount which would boost its total annual profits by around 50 per cent. The anticipated contract term is 15 years, or $3 billion over the life of the contract, with an option for AHS to extend the agreement for a further term. Under the terms of the Request for Proposals, Sonic will finance both the land and building of the superlab. The public treasury will repay the winning bidder the fixed capital investment with interest and in addition guarantee a profit from operating the enterprise. If the 15-year contract is not renewed, the company is guaranteed that the land and equipment will be bought back from it even though the government will already have paid the winning company the invested capital with interest, not to speak of the operating profit, which is lost to the public. It is theft from the public treasury to pay the rich!

Sonic makes no bones about the fact that the aim to maximize profits trumps all other considerations. FOM points out that Sonic's website states, "The board of Sonic Healthcare continues to place great importance on the governance of the company which it believes is vital to its well-being and success. There are two elements to the governance of companies: performance and conformance. Both are important, but it is critical that focus on conformance does not detract from the principal function of a business, which is to undertake prudent activities to generate rewards for shareholders who invest their capital." (Wikipedia defines conformance as how well something, such as a product or system, meets a specified standard; TML Editor.)

The seizure of added-value created by laboratory workers and professionals by this private monopoly comes at the expense of the workers themselves, their communities, the safety and well-being of patients, the possibilities to reinvest the added-value in public health care and other social programs, and the general interests of society.

Such pay the rich schemes reveal an economic system in crisis and in need of a new direction. Stopping and reversing the privatization of public services and the handing over of public funds, infrastructure and guarantees to private interests are election issues. These schemes should be recognized as forms of corruption and should be banned by law. Instead, the value generated within social programs and public services such as lab services must stay within the health system for reinvestment to enhance public services and look after the well-being of health care workers. Let's demand that all Edmonton medical lab services become publicly owned and administered.

Notes

1. For more information, see Stop the Privatization of Public Services and Social Programs! No to Plans to Privatize Hospital Labs! and Keep Edmonton Hospital Labs Public!, TML Daily, April 30, 2014.

2. Medical laboratory services in Edmonton are at present a mix of public and private ownership and control. Hospital-based labs were privatized in 1996 and brought back under public control in 2005. Medical labs in the community were traditionally owned by groups of pathologists but are now under control of huge monopolies. Community-based labs are operated by DynaLIFE, a partnership wholly owned by LifeLabs, the fourth largest laboratory company in the world, and Gamma Dynacare, a subsidiary of LabCorp, the second largest laboratory company in the United States. DynaLIFE's contract expires in March, 2015.

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Rallies to Demand Good Faith Negotiations

The Right to Bargain Terms of Employment
Is an Election Issue



Health care workers at Minister of Health Stephen Mandel's campaign office (top)
and across Alberta, October 16, 2014. (HSAA)

More than 100 health care workers rallied in front of Health Minister Stephen Mandel's campaign office on October 16 demanding that Mandel instruct Alberta Health Services (AHS) to enter into good faith negotiations. Mandel was appointed Health Minister despite not having a seat in the legislature, and is running for the Edmonton-Whitemud seat in the Oct. 27 by-elections. The pickets were organized by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA). HSAA also held information pickets at nine AHS sites around the province during the noon hour on October 16.

HSAA represents 17,000 health care professionals employed by AHS, including paramedics, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, lab and diagnostic imaging technicians, social workers, pharmacists, health records analysts, dieticians and others. HSAA members have been without a collective agreement since March 31, 2014.

HSAA has now filed for mediation, after the AHS stated that it was not prepared to present its proposals for any monetary issues. After seven months of negotiations, the AHS refuses to put forward its offer for wages or benefits.

"We're here to tell Stephen Mandel, who is our health minister who is not elected, Alberta Health Services needs to get a mandate from government to negotiate with 17,000 of our members who are waiting for a contract," HSAA president Elisabeth Ballermann said at the rally at Mandel's office.

"[Health care workers] work hard on the front lines caring for Albertans every day, but their efforts are clearly not being valued. Mr. Mandel and Premier Jim Prentice are playing politics instead of managing health care. Our members are fed up," Ballermann said.

Shift scheduling is also an important issue in negotiations, HSAA informs. Many of the health care technicians and professionals represented by HSAA work shifts. The HSAA proposals regarding the ability to book off time in lieu of overtime, flexibility in shift scheduling, vacation scheduling and resources for personal and professional development are important for the health and well-being of the workers, and to mitigate the negative effects of shift work.

The Prentice government would do well to take note that workers and their allies have shown very clearly they are not going to stand for the use of force and violence in place of good-faith negotiations. Public sector workers including health care workers forced the government to back down from its arrogant stand that it can abuse its power whenever it pleases and no one can hold it to account. The government was forced to retreat on its attack on pensions. It has not enacted the anti-worker Bill 45 even though the government used its majority to ram the Bill through the legislature. Bill 46 was rendered null and void when the government was forced to retreat and negotiate with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

Workers have the right to wages, benefits and working conditions commensurate with their work and qualifications and the right to decide what is acceptable. Fighting for the conditions they require in order to perform the important work they carry out day in and day out is an important defence of the right to health care, because the rights to health care and the rights of those who provide care and services are interdependent and cannot be separated. Their fight deserves the support of all Albertans.

The right to bargain terms of employment is an election issue in the provincial by-elections. Let's go all out to defeat the PC/Wildrose anti-worker austerity agenda in the October 27 by-elections!

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More Fraudulent Claims by the Prentice Government

Alberta's unelected Premier Jim Prentice and Health Minister Stephen Mandel held a press conference in Edmonton on October 13 to announce with great fanfare that the provincial government will open 464 "continuing care spaces" over the next year. They said the new spaces would ease pressure in hospital emergency departments and open up more acute care beds. They also promised to "fast-track" the construction of up to 300 more spaces already in the capital plan.

The announcement was fraud from beginning to end and one more proof that the PC government does not have any intention of speaking truthfully and even less of actually solving a single problem. Instead, the announcement was designed to convince people that the government has it all in hand and people should continue to allow their fate to be decided by these representatives of the most powerful monopolies.

The 464 beds are not new at all. Some have been closed by the province and will be re-opened, while others are in luxury retirement homes and available only to those who can pay. The announcement that 300 beds will be fast-tracked is nothing but fast-talk from the Premier. The capital plan called for 700 new continuing care beds for 2013-2014, but no funding has been approved and no construction started. Now we are told that 300 will be "fast-tracked" -- whatever that means.

Prentice stated that 149 "continuing care beds" will open in Edmonton. He specifically mentioned 68 supportive living beds in Lewis Estates and 22 long-term care and hospice beds at Foyer Lacombe in the suburb of St. Albert. Lewis Estates Retirement Residence is owned by All Seniors Care Living Centres. The facility provides what it calls "gracious retirement living" starting at more than $45,000 a year for a senior in a one-bedroom suite. This does not include the health care not provided in a facility designated as "supportive living." "Supportive living" includes only minimal nursing care.

Lewis Estates also has a closed unit for seniors with dementia. Sixty-eight units will now be designated assisted living, which may assist the private owners to increase occupancy and fill their vacancies. The average senior in Alberta had a pre-tax income of $32,700, and the average public services Local Authorities Pension Plan retiree had an income of about $30,000 in 2013, making these beds out of reach of most seniors.

Foyer Lacombe is a retirement home for priests and members of religious orders, which announced in September that it would close one wing because of "dropping members' numbers and high health care costs." AHS will now take over the wing, which has only 13 empty beds.

The fraud continues when it comes to the announcements about Calgary, where two sites were mentioned, Rouleau Manor in Calgary and Millrise. Intercare @ Millrise is run by Intercare Corporate Group and is currently operating. It is not a new facility. Rouleau Manor was opened at the Holy Cross Centre in 2011 with 77 long-term care beds for seniors with dementia. It was closed in 2013 after the flood and will now be reopened.

A second part of the announcement was that funding would be provided for the Affordable Living Supportive Initiative. This program provides funding to municipalities, community organizations, Métis settlements, local housing authorities and private corporations for "supportive living." In recent years more and more of the funding has been allocated to provide subsidies for private corporate interests. The AHS plan called for 700 such spaces in 2013-14 but no funding has been awarded to date. Now the government has announced that it will "re-designate" this funding. Prentice also stated that 1400 new spaces would be built between now and 2016-17, which is a sharp decrease from the 700 a year in the government's 2010 plan. In sum, all the announcements are actually a cut from previously announced spaces for seniors.

So much for the claims that Prentice is a man who listens, and to whom you can talk. The working people have no interest in a discussion where the intent is to conceal the truth in order to wash government's hands of its responsibility to provide seniors with dignity and security in retirement. Working people have their own independent thinking and pro-social program and human-centred direction for the economy, which they are determined to bring into fruition.

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Coming Events

Health Care Workers Rally at Jim Prentice's
Calgary Office

Calgary
Friday, October 24 -- 12:00 - 1:00 pm
Campaign office of unelected Premier Jim Prentice
#122, 11988 Symons Valley Road NW


HSAA information picket, October 16, 2014. (HSAA)

Join HSAA members at the rally Oct. 24th to draw public attention to the labour dispute and the impacts on patient care. Please bring your banners, signs, and flags.

Background

Negotiations between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) broke down on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. AHS has informed HSAA that it does not have a mandate to discuss wages or any other monetary items. The previous agreement expired March 31, 2014.

HSAA has applied for mediation and is holding AHS mismanagement and political paralysis accountable for the failure. HSAA members are rallying to draw public attention to the labour dispute and the impacts on patient care.

For more information, please contact Ishani Weera, AFL Organizing and Outreach.

(Background courtesy of the Alberta Federation of Labour)

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All-Candidates Forum on Health Care for
Edmonton-Whitemud Constituency

Edmonton
Wednesday, October 22 -- 7 pm
Riverbend United Church, 14907 - 45 Avenue
Organized by Whitemud Citizens for Public Health.


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