CUPE emergency dispatchers in British Columbia have joined forces in order to protect their jobs – and the public interest.
The creation of the Emergency Communications Corporation in British Columbia this past year has caused uncertainty and confusion for emergency dispatchers in the Lower Mainland. But by joining together in a single unit, they have strengthened their hand in shaping the future direction of the system.
Emergency dispatching has historically been the responsibility of specialized emergency services – police (municipal or RCMP), ambulance and fire. But last year a decision was made to restructure the system, developing emergency centres in key locations throughout the province.
Ambulance dispatchers, who work for the provincial government, some RCMP dispatchers and most municipal police dispatchers are CUPE members. Firefighters have their own dispatchers and the City of Vancouver police dispatchers are represented by the Teamsters.
In the Lower Mainland, the Emergency Communications Corporation (E-comm) has announced its intention to centralize emergency dispatch in one location in downtown Vancouver. As well, they propose a system where all dispatchers would handle the full range of emergency calls.
Centralized service raises concerns
This approach has raised opposition in many communities, concerned that a centralized service will not provide the same level of service they now enjoy from dispatchers – particularly police dispatchers – based within their own communities.
It also raised concerns among ambulance paramedics who are fully trained to provide life-saving instructions over the phone.
Intense negotiations were required between Local 873, representing the paramedics, and the provincial government in order to agree to terms under which the ambulance dispatchers would be integrated within E-comm.
As well, CUPE has continued to support its police dispatch members who – like their communities – do not want to see local services moved to Vancouver.
But at the same time, it was clear that action was needed to ensure that CUPE would continue to represent the new employees of E-comm, maintaining our role as the lead union in health and emergency dispatching in B.C.
CUPE members merge
In order to present a united voice in defense of jobs and quality services, all CUPE’s police dispatch locals voted in favour of forming a consolidated emergency dispatch unit within Local 873. This made a significant impact when the three unions vying for the E-comm certification appeared before the BC Labour Relations Board (BCLRB) in July.
The BCLRB has called for a vote in early September.
To this point, CUPE has run a strong internal and public campaign aimed at keeping members informed and upbeat while preparing the public to enter the debate concerning community vs. centralized services.
The campaign is slated to continue through the certification vote and optimism is running high.