Paramedics plan rowdy reception for minister
Darcy Wintonyk, ctvbc.ca
Published Monday, November 23, 2009 12:13PM PST
A group of angry paramedics planned a rowdy reception for B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon before a speaking engagement early Monday morning -- but they didn't get the opportunity they were looking for.
About 200 paramedics, CUPE members and B.C. Federation of Labour delegates attending a policy convention rallied outside of the Terminal City Club in downtown Vancouver before sunrise.
The group intended to confront Falcon as he entered the building for a breakfast speech but was denied the chance when the minister entered the building through an alternate door.
They are angry about Falcon's part in Bill 21 -- a back-to-work order issued early November that imposed a contract on 3,500 ambulance workers and legislated an end to the paramedics' seven-month strike.
The bill includes a three per cent pay increase -- far less than the union was bargaining for.
Addressing fellow workers as sisters and brothers, CUPE vice president Paul Farrow said Falcon was being unreasonable by refusing to meet.
"It's shameful we have to be standing out here fighting for democratic rights in British Columbia," he said to the cheering group.
"This is a start of a movement across the province to repeal this legislation that has been rammed through with no discussion in our legislature."
Pandemic or 2010?
CUPE 873 president John Strohmeier said his members don't believe Falcon introduced Bill 21 because of the H1N1 pandemic.
"The whole province knows he did it because the Olympics are coming," he said.
Kevin Falcon said Monday the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee has a contingency plan to staff all Olympic events without B.C. paramedics, but taking part would be a "great opportunity" for ambulance workers.
"Who gets the opportunity a chance to put on their resume the fact that they staffed one of the most important events that takes place in the world?"
Strohmeier said the provincial government has left workers no choice but to speak out.
"Ambulance paramedics in B.C. did not choose a path of confrontation with the government. All we want is a fair process and to vote on a collective agreement."
Kevin Falcon said Monday he understood ambulance workers aren't happy, but he didn't feel union heads have been providing the best possible leadership for members.
"They decided to be the only union out of 300,000 public servants that is having a fight with the government and demand an increase that is not justifiable," he told CTV News.
Spokesperson BJ Chute says the person hired to conduct an independent third-party review of the bill has personal and professional ties to the provincial government and is incapable of doing an impartial job.
"This amounts to little more than a sham," he said.
"He's probably one of the most highly regarded and respected individuals that has ever served in the public service in British Columbia."
The minister says the third-party investigation is an opportunity to "fix a broken paramedic system."
""The leadership needs to put down their tools, stop the constant fighting. I get that they don't like being legislated back to work but let's try to work on a solution that works for the members."
BJ Chute said paramedics work 12 hour days up to six days a week -- and there are roughly 100 vacant positions in the Lower Mainland alone.