Montreal – Of the ten sectoral meetings happening on the first day of Convention 2009, the EMS group was probably the only one to start off with a review of emergency procedures for the convention hall.
That kind of professionalism is typical of paramedics, who see themselves as on the job almost around the clock. Unfortunately, a coast to coast review of the battles faced by paramedics in their workplaces revealed the fact few governments acknowledge that level of dedication with the respect paramedics deserve.
BC: Paramedics have been on strike in BC since April 1, 2009. An essential services order from the Labour Board has forced CUPE to maintain service levels of over 96%. In some areas, essential service levels are higher than staffing compliments before the strike. In an effort to enforce the service levels, the employer won a legal decision that would put paramedics in contempt of court for failing to answer phone calls from their employer.
Time is however, on the side of the EMS employees. As the 2010 Olympics get closer, the spotlight will turn to Vancouver’s emergency services, including ambulance. The employer is attempting to recruit employees from other provinces in anticipation of trouble providing the services needed.
Alberta: Health care restructuring has forced CUPE paramedics to join another union in a bargaining unit of technical staff. CUPE is launching a constitutional challenge against the move in court this week. In spite of the struggles CUPE is facing, the union has been successful in organizing several new groups of paramedics, providing evidence that given the choice, Alberta Paramedics will choose CUPE.
Quebec : Quebec paramedics are hoping to negotiate a short term contract next year, to see them through the weak economy and difficult bargaining conditions. Other issues facing the paramedics include the centralization of services, which may lead to union run off votes.
Ontario: Between 2000-2008, strong gains were main in wages for Ontario paramedics. Mike Dick, the chair of the province’s Ambulance Committee, said his personal wages increased by 100% over that period. However, the slumping economy has slowed that progress down and negotiations have become much more difficult.
New Brunswick: New Brunswick paramedics formed CUPE 4848 in 2007, bringing together 850 paramedics, dispatchers, and supervisors into one local. Since 2007, private and public services have merged into one entity managed by private company, but financed publicly.
Respect has come slowly for NB EMS workers, after a long fight, vehicles were finally equipped with winter tires last year, and paramedics won another safety victory with the purchase of two portable radios for each vehicle, allowing for better communications between paramedics.
The local continues to fight for assured meal breaks and vacation, which get frequently cancelled due to staff shortages. At a recent AC/DC concert, paramedics were asked to work for free while police and firefighters were paid overtime for their services.