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CUPE New Brunswick organized a rally in Perth-Andover July 28 to show its support for striking Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), members of CUPE 4226, who have been on the picket lines since April 18.

The EMTs work for the privately operated Southern Victoria Ambulance Service. They have some very serious concerns that remain unresolved by either the employer, Raymond Durepos, or the provincial government.

We wanted to make sure that the Local knows they are not alone in their struggle, said Rick MacMillan, secretary-treasurer of CUPE NB. This was also a good opportunity to get out and talk to people in Perth-Andover about why their EMTs are on strike. It is important that the public understand that lives really are at stake. Our members cannot go back to work until more EMTs are hired.

CUPE members from across the province marched across the bridge that separates Perth and Andover, chanting, cheering and pausing to share information with passing members of the community. Many passers-by honked, waved and cheered to show their support.

When the EMTs are on call, they are expected to work up to 96 consecutive hours. This is, as the local has repeatedly stated, both unreasonable and unsafe. To provide service 24 hours a day, there should be a minimum of two people on every shift, seven days a week. Many ambulance services run directly by the province provide better coverage and higher staffing levels.

The Southern Victoria Ambulance Service takes 750 calls per year from area residents high compared to most regions of New Brunswick. To ensure adequate coverage, the ambulance service should be staffed with full-time, on-site EMTs.

The province, which despite privatization is still responsible for ensuring that all New Brunswickers have access to quality ambulance services, has refused to action even after the union showed that individuals without any training as EMTs have been allowed to work as scabs.

What will it take to make the province act? continued Rick MacMillan. I know that if something happened to me or to someone I loved, I would want a qualified EMT in the back of the ambulance. This is an issue that can literally mean the difference between life and death. Raymond Durepos may want to cut corners to save money. Will the province let him risk lives in order to do so? The people of Perth-Andover deserve better.