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Tired of long shifts and low pay, ambulance workers across New Brunswick are organizing to improve their working conditions.

In the past six months, workers at 23 ambulance locations representing eight companies have filed for certification with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. CUPE already represents 11 ambulance services including those in the regional hospitals. Now, employees at private companies including drivers and office administrators are looking for the same protection and benefits.

Ambulance emergency medical technicians are usually the first on the scene to give medical care to sick, injured or dying people. Treatment by an EMT can mean the difference between life and death.

“A lot of these emergency medical technicians work 24-hour shifts for seven days straight without a break,” says CUPE organizer Gordon Black. “When you add up all the hours they work, you’re left with front-line emergency healthcare workers making far less than minimum wage,” he says.

There are groups newly-certified or awaiting certification in Kent, Woodstock, St. Andrews, Tracadie, Caraquet, Kedgwick, St. Quentin, Campobello Island, Deer Island, over 15 other communities. Collective agreements have been signed with ambulance workers in Campbellton, Edmunston and Shippagan. And the numbers continue to grow, with new ambulance groups still coming to CUPE for help.

“Workers at these private companies are stressed right out. In some cases they’re on the job earning less than $3 an hour. Yet they’re expected to have a professional skill level, and are constantly updating their training,” says Black.

“By organizing together, we can work to set some province-wide standards for shift scheduling, wages and overtime. We can make sure ambulance workers get the recognition and pay they deserve for the life-saving work they do,” concluded Black.