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December 9, 2009

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Falcon called to talks

SURREY—The message to Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon was loud and clear - get to the bargaining table tomorrow with paramedics and stay there until there is a fair collective agreement.

More than 100 paramedics, CUPE members and union supporters were on hand today in Surrey outside a Chamber of Commerce luncheon where Falcon was speaking inside on his vision of “the future of health care in B.C.”

Tomorrow (Dec. 10) is the deadline for the government and the BC Ambulance Service to come to the table to negotiate a new contract with Ambulance Paramedics of BC, CUPE 873. A meeting has been set for the two sides tomorrow morning in Vancouver.

The one-year deal now in place was legislated by the BC Liberals, ending a seven-month strike by 3,500 ambulance paramedics. The main issues are the critical condition of the ambulance service, longer response times, wages, rural service and staffing. Repeated paramedics’ calls for an independent binding industrial inquiry to address the comprehensive problems in the sector were met with a government appointed non-binding, short-term industrial inquiry commission (IIC) headed by a former civil servant with no labour, health or arbitration experience.

CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill reminded Falcon that “all we have been asking for in return for all the invaluable work that our paramedics do in every community in B.C. every day is for you to make the ambulance service better.”

O’Neill reminded Falcon that he claimed to know lots of paramedics who he talks to all the time. “Now you just have to sit down and really listen to what those paramedics have to say.”

United Steelworkers regional director Steve Hunt pledged the support of his 60,000 members saying “we will win this fight because solidarity does work.”

CUPE 873 spokesman BJ Chute told Falcon, “You promised to work with paramedics, not blame paramedics. So we welcome you to come out tomorrow to negotiate with paramedics.”

Meanwhile, Falcon told his luncheon audience that the paramedics should join the government-run IIC and threatened to look into a greater role for fire fighters in the first response system currently handled by ambulance paramedics.


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