Forty-four registered canvassers will hit the streets on the Sunshine Coast over the next three months, asking registered voters to sign a province-wide initiative petition to include paramedics in the Fire and Police Services Collective Bargaining Act.
The petition, launched Jan. 9, has 90 days to collect the signatures of ten percent of registered voters in every riding in BC. For Powell River-Sunshine Coast, the threshold is 3,743 signatures.
The origins of this petition date back to 2010, when paramedics went on strike during the Olympics and were legislated back to work. The government moved them into a CUPE bargaining unit under the Health Authorities Act, along with hospital facilities staff such as laundry workers and cleaners. However, the issues that sparked the 2010 strike remain unresolved despite years of negotiation.
Frustrated with the impasse, grassroots organizers have launched an initiative to move paramedics into the same bargaining unit as other 9-1-1 emergency responders. This would define ambulance paramedics as an essential service, so they would not be allowed to strike, but they would have access to binding arbitration.
Petition organizer Josh Henshaw, a former Sunshine Coast resident now living in Victoria, says that paramedics are “outliers” in a massive collective agreement for workers whose issues are very different. The move makes sense because “we are out there as first responders, subject to all the risks and hazards and occupational stresses that police and fire have.”
“In rural BC the top issue is staffing and retention, which is putting cars out of service,” said Henshaw. “The majority of the province is a part time service, with not a lot of job security or wage security.”
Gibsons paramedic Cole Godfrey has been working on the coast for five years. He works a full time day job on top of his part-time ambulance job. In all there are only five full time ambulance staff on the lower Coast, with another 60-80 part-timers who are paid only when they go out on a call.
“In any other province a station as busy as Gibsons or Sechelt would have full time members,” said Cole. “The system is broken in BC. There’s staffing issues all over the province. If you don’t pay people, you can’t keep people employed.”
Gibsons has two vehicles, with one full time chief and a crew of part-timers responding to 2,200 calls a year. Sechelt, with three ambulances and one full time day crew, answers 4,000 calls a year. Pender Harbour’s part-time ambulance crew responds to 600 calls a year.
“You’re sitting there hoping for the phone to ring because that’s the only time you get paid,” said Henshaw. “But you don’t want to sit there wishing somebody has to call 9-1-1 for you to get paid.”
Canvassers will be setting up tables in malls and at events, and going door to door.
Only nine initiative petition applications have been launched in BC since the Recall and Initiative Act came into force in 1995, and only one has succeeded – the 2010 petition to End the Harmonized Sales Tax.
If this petition is successful, the government must either introduce the draft Bill in the legislature, or take the issue to a public referendum.
More information about the campaign can be found at yourparamedics.ca.
Please support the current paramedic initiative. This is likely the biggest opportunity of our careers to improve our service for patients, taxpayers, dispatchers and paramedics in BC.
If we succeed it will be a huge step forward towards recognizing the dedication we have and the contribution we make.
We are all busy and tired at the end of every day. I know! But please step up and promote this! Become a canvasser or bring awareness to the initiative by talking to people about it and asking them to sign the petition.
We must act and reach for this!