BC Paramedics: “Essential Service” Victims

The current dispute between B.C.’s Emergency Paramedics and the BC Ambulance Service shows how badly our current “Essential Service” laws do NOT work fairly.

Basically 3,500 workers have been turned into “forced labour” ….  unable realistically to quit their jobs; but also unable to take any meaningful job action to force their employer …  or the BC government … to negotiate fairer wages or working conditions.

As far as I am concerned … ANY legislation declaring ANY service “essential” and forcing ANY workers to keep providing services weeks and months after the expiration of ANY contract … should also automatically include provisions for mediation and, if that fails, REQUIRED  BINDING arbitration within six months by an independent outside  adjudicator.

Without  such provision, the strike can just keep going on and on … because since the workers keep working,  there is no real incentive on the employer to bargain; and, no real incentive on the workers’ part to lower their demands.

And the government can just ignore the dispute and the impact on patients … until the situation deteriorates to a point where “illegal” job  action takes place  by angry, frustrated workers … and lives are placed in jeopardy.

(But I’ll bet the government won’t continue to ignore it as the Olympics draw near!)

Meanwhile, the damage to morale over the several months before getting to that point cant help but have a negative inpact on the vital service the paramedics provide so many times daily in so many communities across the province.

They deserve better. 

With forced binding arbitration looming, I believe both sides would have much more incentive to come to a voluntary agreement.  But if they cannot, at least their dispute/negotiations would have an expiry date  … after which an indpendent expert or even panel of esperts would decide on a fair settlement.

Essential Service should not just mean Exploitive Service.

By taking away paramedics’ (or fire or police workers’) right to job action, we have curtailed their democratic rights. And made it easier for the employer to refuse to negotiate or settle.. 

That’s totally unfair … unless the government also legislates a BINDING way for these disputes to be settled in a timely manner … not drag on for six months or more.

Until that happens …the governnment has a responsibility to both the paramedics AND THE PUBLIC to intervene and take part in achieving a solution and a settlement.

Before the paramedics are forced into other action that will do more harm than good.

Harv Oberfeld

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24 Responses to BC Paramedics: “Essential Service” Victims

  1. Richard says:

    Right on Harvey!!
    The fact is the government really hates independent and binding arbitration. Campbell has a particular aversion to it. This leaves both the BC Ambulance Service and the Union in “limbo”.

    The one thing the government can’t afford is to come up short during the Olympics but at this juncture it appears they will unless they sit down and negotiate fairly with the Union.

  2. Norman Farrell says:

    We have enjoyed one of the finest ambulance services anywhere so we can afford to cut it back 25% or so without hurting anybody except for a few sick and injured folks.

    I once saw a patient being transported in Philadelphia. It was much more efficient. An old panel truck from the fire department pulled up, three guys grabbed the man with a heart attack and tossed him in the back of the van. They took off, headed for the hospital so the patient could be treated.

    Here, they would have stalled around, taking his pulse and blood pressure and hooking up monitors and maybe even using a defibrillator. When you have ambulance attendants that can actually treat people, health care costs go up. Not only do you have to pay paramedics higher salaries, but more patients survive to require further hospital treatment.

    The Liberals know they can grind these guys, the same way a cheap NHL team gets rid of their good players so they can bring in less capable players at lower rates. Hey, in the end it’s just business.

    (Response: In Philly, didn’t they ask for a VISA card first? Who knows, maybe that will happen here ..and they’ll blame the paramedics! h.o.)

  3. Gary E says:

    I think that this dispute is being dragged on until the budget comes down. We all know how Gordo is pennypinching these days because he didn’t realize the scope of the depression we’re in. (some economy manager)
    So, what will happen is they will budget the services, then legislate a contract to fit that budget. The problem is a contract is not a contract if it is legislated. So the paramedics go all the way to the supreme court like anyone else to prove Campbell wrong. IMHO

  4. Patrick Bell (Not the MLA) says:

    Amen Harvey. I have a very good friend who has been a paramedic for many years…their current situation just stinks!

  5. Jason says:

    You hit the nail on the head with this article. No incentive or motivation for either side to bring this to a resolution. Government and the union leadership are locked horns while paramedics, managers and support staff deal with the pressure of the strike every day. This strike is having a devastating negative impact on the ambulance service and if it goes on much longer their may be no service left at the end of all this. Campbell never rewards those unions that work against him and so when CUPE’s gamble of striking through the election didnt work this was always going to be the outcome. You can’t kick over the trough and then still expect to be fed. The CUPE leadership need to swallow their pride, the master plan didn’t work, so take the 3% deal now before even that gets taken off the table and their is no ambulance service for paramedics to come back to – whats coming down the line next is wage freezes, budget reductions and job cuts – nobody is going to thank the union for holding out for that! It doesn’t matter whose to blame then.

  6. (Name withheld) says:

    Hi Harvey. You don’t know me but I just read your article in your blog in regards to the BC Ambulance Paramedics dilemma we are in. Thanks for putting a truthful spin on the situation … I am a full time paramedic in Kelowna and every now and then we do make a difference in somebody’s life … a chance that is lifesaving. You are able to walk away with a good feeling close to your heart … that’s what it’s all about. Thanks for your support. My job is like an emotional roller coaster at times …. where everything is over but the crying … or even bringing a new life in the world.

  7. (Name withheld) says:

    As a {long time} paramedic with the BC Ambulance Service, I have to say I have never been humiliated more by my employer than I am now.
    The present Government-appointed head of the BCAS has stated, Paramedics are not in the same catagory as Police officers or Fire fighter, rather we are more akin to “orderlies in the hospital”.
    With all due respect to the orderlies, I think the man does not live on this planet.
    Three years ago the Federal Government put the paramedic profession onto the Public Safety Occupation list that is kept by Revenue Canada.
    > We are the only group that has been included on the PSO list since it was initiated.
    As a profession, it is my understanding, that more Paramedics have died ,”In the line of duty”, than the other 2 professions.
    At present the Provincial Government has allowed harassment and intimidation by all levels of BCAS management.
    They have allowed the Labour Relations Board to set Essential Service Levels that are completely unsustainable and no way reflect the levels of service maintained previous to the strike. They have ordered the Paramedic Licensing Board to give out temporary licenses, if ordered by BCAS. The applicants can be anyone they deem qualified. (smacks of Ronald Regan and the Air Traffic Controllers).
    And ,despite the fact they have legislation, that mandates binding arbitration for fire fighters and police officers, they will not allow us to to use this to settle our dispute. The Health Minister has stated on radio, that “binding arbitration, settles nothing”.
    What are we going to have when this is all over? Over 10% of the present full time staff can retire tommorrow and they probably will.
    > There is a large market for paramedics in North America, Many areas pay more and you do not have to make less than minimum wage for 5 years, to get a full time job. Will any new recruits come here or go elswhere
    And I have to ask. What will the morale and sense of dedication be like after the atmosphere this Government has fostered through out this dispute?

  8. (Name withheld) says:

    I am a Paramedic. I wanted to drop you a quick line to say thank you for your opinion in your last blog. It is so refreshing to hear something positive in our current “strike” and I use that term loosely! I can’t believe that we are being treated with such lack of respect. I hear of so many Paramedics that have had enough of this management and current government that they are willing to just quit and do something else. If the Campbell government is orchistrating the demise of our fine Ambulance Service, then they are on the right track. Such a disappointment! Thanks again for your support,

  9. Norman Farrell says:

    Orderlies or patient care aids (PCA), no disrespect intended, hardly compare to paramedics. Their primary duties are to wrangle bedpans, help patients move about, assist with personal cleaning and to help nursing staff.

    Paramedics are front line responders able to treat patients for accidents and illness. They sometimes work in gruesome situations from which most of us would turn away. And, as happened at our house, the paramedics sometimes work with gentle tenderness to support and assist a feeble elder as that person is transported for the final ride when homecare has become impossible. I still choke about that day and the wonderful assistance provided by two paramedics. Everyone in the room knew it was the end for a dear old lady. These people knew the right words to say.

    (Response: Which makes the fact that the government has turned its back on them all the worse. h.o.)

  10. (Name withheld) says:

    Many thanks for your measured and considered opinion on the current status of our dispute with the BC Ambulance Service and Ministry of Health. Lets hope the government comes to its senses and agrees to binding arbitration before the pot boils over.

  11. (Name withheld) says:

    I have worked for the BC Ambulance Service for over thirty years, I have done most of the jobs from teaching to being an RVP with the union.

    You have stated with few words and great clarity the struggle we face with an uncaring and insensitive employer, an employer I doubt I can continue working for much longer. You have also kindly shared your views with the public…. and for that, Thankyou.

  12. (Name Withheld) says:

    Thank you Harvie.

    The LRB has become a joke. It is obviously biased towards the government (as a recent supreme court ruling found). Did you know (a board member … edited)who is making rulings in the BC Paramedics case recently ruled that he was not biased when CUPE complained he was? HE RULED HIMSELF THAT HE WAS NOT BIASED! What??? And that after 4 months he still hasn’t released his rulings, so CUPE cannot appeal his Essential Service Order?

  13. (Name withheld) says:

    I attend scene’s where I am the ultimate medical authority, resuscitating patient’s to the same standards as the emergency department, however the fire captain attending makes 10 dollars an hour more than me, while following my direction.
    This current government gave the nurses 17 percent for thier current contract with out any arbitration or job action, yet we are to be made an example of.

    Sicken’s me.

  14. Wayne says:

    The pot has been boiling for a long time…..it’s so screwed that where do you start too fix it! The liberals aren’t interested in trying as it’s based on a part-time system that was based on compensating volunteers…..it’s so far over-stretched to continue with this mentallity. Paramedics are looking at other careers and early retirement to get away, and if this whole mess continues, getting too the hospital could be a challenge. I guess you get what you vote for!

  15. Robert says:

    I have been a Paramedic with BC Ambulance for 4 years now. I was very proud to be a member of BC Ambualnce when I first stared. But I soon realized what it was all about!

    The government is stating that the average wage for a Paramedic is $60,000 per year. In a good station, yes you can make that much.. BUT!!! They are forgetting to tell you that to make that you are having to work 40, 50 or even 60 shifts !!! Someone ar Tim Horton’s can make more than that work 24-7!.. thay can.. I bet that they would make over $100,000 because they would be paid OVERTIME after working 8 hours!… The Health Authority has brought out a medi van service, doing transfers that Paramedics once did. So when we did get call outs to do transfers while on a Kilo shift ( the famous $2.00 per hr ) we just plan and simple are getting them… I want everyone to look into there own income.. Look at what you are paid per hr and compair that to $2.00.. Would you be able to raise a family, or pay for your house on $2.00 per hr?….

    And just food for thought!.. When you are having the worst day in your life, if you are at a hospital and need to be transfered to a different for special treatment or just to have a bed to sleep in. Would you want a trained Paramedic to help you.. or a person in the medi van service with NO MEDICAL TRAINING!!! YEs that is right!! Do you know that they do not even sit in the back of the vehicle with you.. What if along the trip something gets worse for you? What is you need something?.. or even just someone to talk to… Medi van service is GOING TO KILL SOMEONE!!!! just give it time!.. I know that it wrong to say.. just knowing what I know.. it is going to happen! and maybe it was already.. who knows…. but just mark my words.. watch the news and when the head line comes across that someone died that did not have to.. Youe will then see that I am right!

    And as for Gorndon Campbell .. Well he is an ASSHOLE!!! plain and simple.. I would love to see his face if anything ever happens to him and he needs a ambulance… :D:D…

    Why did I spend over $20,000 in training to do what I do.. Because I was proud to do the job.. I still am.. but vomit just a little bit every time that I have to put on the uniform with BC Ambulance on it… They don’t care about us!!! The managers just care about there 6 figure wages.. and as long as we don’t rock the boat… we are welcome to sit behind them and kiss there ass.. BUT NO MORE!!!!!!!

    and more thing.. do U know that in Vancouver… One manager from the health authority makes over $400,000 per year?!?!?!!? and he is not even the top manager..

  16. Wife of a paramedic says:

    Thanks Harv, Finally someone who understands what paramedics are going through. The lastest tactic by the BC Liberals is a complaint with the Labour Relations Board – It is now a violation of the essential services order and the government is threatening paramedics of contempt of court if they do not work overtime.

    Can you believe this? What would you do if your employer told you – You had to answer the phone if they called on your DAY OFF and if requested – you had to come into work – not because of a major disaster but because BC Ambulance fails to have adequate staff to staff the ambulances.

    I don’t call this work, I call this slavery!!!!!
    The paramedics need time off … they need downtime … take it from a paramedics wife – they come home exhausted, physically & mentally and then be told they have to work more is just plain cruel. It is only a matter of time, when these individuals make a mistake and someone dies unnecessarily. Who will then take the blame – the paramedic or the government?

  17. Casey says:

    Harvey – You absolutely N-A-I-L-E-D this issue to the wall. I couldn’t have put it better. If the public only understood the level of unfairness that is at play here, we’d be laughing. How are the Liberals getting away with this? As I was reading your article, I had one of those rare moments where you feel the writer was reading your mind! Thanks for calling it like it is. Hopefully the public will eventually understand the ridiculous nature of the ESL and how it creates a terribly unequal playing field – in gross favor of the government.

  18. Henri P says:

    Harv said, (But I’ll bet the government won’t continue to ignore it as the Olympics draw near!)
    There’s your answer,That’s one of the ways for the paramedics to handle this dispute.
    Forgo your actions for now, say no more ,except amongst yourselves, draw up a new strategy ,bring it into play Jan 1/10 , hit the hot spots ,you know where there going to be,then, go for 25% more of everything your asking for now, the government will relent,guaranteed. If you have to be militant do it, that’s the only language that worked in the past, the new passive chicken sh!t union leaders have no gonads , keep a close watch on the union exec ,most are in office for the status and money, and don’t be scared to tell them to pound sand, they are ,after all “working for you”, not the other way around ,as they so like to portray. Been there ,done that.

  19. Mr. Knowing says:

    The olympics are NOT leverage – the government recently passed a bill that allows them to issue paramedic licenses to anyone they want – that includes people from outside the province, taxi drivers (they could drive the ambulance) etc., etc. – anyone they want.

    Also the government is planning on using our military paramedics for the olympics anyways – our strike doesn’t affect that at all.

    I am bound by law to work on my days off – it doesn’t matter how bad things were at work, or if it is my child’s birthday, or I want to visit with a friend from out of town – the government can phone and tell me I am working tomorrow!

    How would you like to work your full time job and then be on call 24/7? Going biking in whistler for the weekend? The government can phone me at 10 in the morning and tell me to leave the mountain and report to work (on my days of)

    (Response: Interesting .. BUT job action or protests OR PICKETS by ambulance drivers during the games could garner very unpleasant international attention. And MANY union workers will not cross the lines. It WILL be settled before then. h.o.)

  20. genuine says:

    BOY this sounds like trans link,and the drivers those poor drivers do all the work and get beat up on the job and those freakin ass holes, (managers)sit in their offices many of them,expecting to get their asses kissed for doing sweet f all! Sorry for the language,but every institution is run this way! over managed and under staffed!Get rid of the managers that aren’t needed start cutting there, but no these guys are the spies for the managers that manage them and so on and so on…….if those funds were put for what they were truly meant for SERVICES!!!!!!!!NOT MANAGEMENT LARGESS!!!!!!!!!PRICKS THE LOT OF THEM!!!!!to the paramedics chin up boy’s and girls something will come of this it’s time to march on that conniving pricks office!!!everyone I talk to on the street is up for it all we need is Barret and Vanderzalm (Ive forgiven him)and Rafe Mair to organize it friendly old faces from an era of true prosperity and when men were men and women were women and not deceiver’s .

  21. Withheld says:

    I would have thought with your extensive background you might have done a more thorough job of reporting the facts of this issue.
    Did you check out the Vancouver Sun (your former employer) Public Sector Salaries List, which provides the incomes for the 30,000 highest paid civil servants in BC? Did you compare the names on that list with, say, the names of the paramedics in the video on the ‘Save our Paramedics’ site? It’s interesting that the list doesn’t show the Job Title of many…many who are paramedics, and most of whom make $75,000+ per year!
    How do they make so much money? Overtime.
    On the Ambulance Paramedics of BC website, there is an ad which says “Sooner or later someone is going to die needlessly”. Harvey, it already happens more often than the ambulance paramedics want you to know – because some of them refuse to do the job as the employer requires using internationally recognized protocols and treatments (instead of “winging it”) because the paramedics think they know better; because some of them should not be paramedics but get pushed through the system, taking (paid by the employer) training up to four times in order to be licensed; the union actually defends the right and jobs of many of these “paramedics” even though there is ample evidence they should not be working; the gov’t spends millions of dollars in out of court settlements to avoid public knowledge of the “mistakes” these paramedics make. To be hired, one only needs a grade 12 education, a class 4 driver’s licence, and a first aid ticket. There is no longer a fitness requirement (it was discontinued – and supported by the union – after employees “hurt” themselves trying to lift weight up stairs – a common job requirement) and quite frankly there should be – some paramedics cannot possibly do their job properly with those bellies in their way!!
    The public needs to know that the paramedics are not telling the whole truth about the situation.
    Paramedics do not “work” for $2 an hour – they are being paid to wait at their station for calls, because some live too far away (or take too long getting there) to provide an “appropriate response time”. And Harvey – the union fought for that benefit for their part-time members – the same employees who are not making themselves available for work now, so ambulances are not staffed, communities have no ambulance coverage…while the full-time employees work their two days/two nights, then have four or six days off, or work “forced” overtime, or attend union demonstrations. Boo Hoo! Who’s really paying the price for this?!?
    The last contract the APBC had was accepted by the union and membership – so what are they whining about?
    Sure the ambulance service could be better run – if the paramedics want wage parity with other services, why not amalgamate them with the fire service? Because the APBC don’t want that.
    So what do they want, for the taxpayers of this province?
    I’m not saying the service is perfect, but the paramedics are not helping themselves or the public. There are other, simpler, non-strike action ways to make it clearer to the employer what needs to be done. But that would involve giving up their precious overtime bucks, which their lifestyles can’t afford. Whose lives are they on strike to save…?
    Get back to work, all of you! Be grateful you still have jobs.

    (Response: If you’ve read my blog or listened to me on CFUN on this topic, you know I have repeatedly indicated I am not taking sides on how much the paramedics should be paid. My gripe is with the process: government should not be allowed to take away a group’s right to strike without attaching a firm mechanism for settling disputes, like a timetable for negotiations, then mediation and finally binding arbitratiion. But to take away a memocratic right and then FORCE them to just keep working … not the Canadian way ..or at least should not be. h.o)

  22. Alex says:

    I’m a Paramedic in Vancouver. Last year, I worked in excess of 70 overtime shifts and could have worked more if I wanted to.  I did so to pay for an Advance Life Support course in the future.  In March of this year, the admission requirements changed for the course and now I have to complete 1 year of university prior to enrolling.  I am presently in contempt of the Supreme Court order because I refuse to work or submit overtime availability.  I work my regularly scheduled shifts, study and try to fit in some time for myself and my family before starting the cycle all over again.  Many of my colleges are in similar circumstances.   It’s not our fault that we are short paramedics on the street.  We have been short “historically” for years.

    Paramedics work for the most part 12 hour shifts (2 day shifts followed by 2 night shifts with 4 days off). The overtime we are being asked to do isn’t an hour or so, it’s a full shift.   My overtime rate is 1&1/2 my base rate ($30.01). If my regular shift runs into overtime because of a late call, I receive $45.02 per hour.  If I work an overtime shift on my regular days of I receive only $37.51 per hour instead of my overtime rate of $45.02. (a difference of$7.50 per hour).   The government realized a long time ago that it is cheaper to have Paramedics work overtime than hire more fulltime staff.

    On average, 15 ambulances are staffed with Paramedics on overtime costing the taxpayer approximately 15 million a year.  This doesn’t include sickness or injury incurred while working extra hours.   To staff these ambulances normally, would cost approximately 9 million.  

    Paramedics are for the most part, are very busy.   I seldom see my station during my shift and if I do it’s to restock.  There are only 3.471 of us in the province working out of 470 ambulances (including spare vehicles).  We did 534.688 calls in 2007/2008 (excluding hospital waits and area stand-bys).   To look at it in perspective, we had contact with 1 in 8 people living in BC.  If you are to compare any other service to ours… we are by far, the busiest.

    (Response: Thanks. Info like you have provided makes it really easier to understand the dispute issues. h.o.)

  23. Alex says:

    I work as a Paramedic in Vancouver. Last year, I worked in excess of 70 overtime shifts and could have worked more if I wanted to. I did so to pay for an Advanced Life Support course that I plan to take in the future. In March of this year, the admission requirements changed for the course and I now have to complete 1 year of university prior to enrolling. I am presently in contempt of the Supreme Court order because I refuse to work or submit overtime availability as I have done “historically” in the past. I do, and always have worked my regularly scheduled shifts. But now I am expected to work 2 overtime shifts, study, and try to fit in some time for myself and my family before starting the cycle all over again. Many of my colleges are in similar circumstances for different reasons. It is not our fault that we are short paramedics on the street. We have been short “historically” for years.
    Paramedics work for the most part 12 hour shifts (2 day shifts followed by 2 night shifts with 4 days off). The overtime we are being asked to do isn’t an hour or so. It is a full shift. My overtime rate is 1&1/2 my base rate ($30.01). If my regular shift runs into overtime because of a late call, I receive $45.02 per hour. If I work an overtime shift on my days off, I receive only $37.51 per hour instead of my overtime rate of $45.02. A difference $7.50 per hour. The BC government realized a long time ago that it is cheaper to have Paramedics work overtime than hire more fulltime staff.
    On average, 15 ambulances are staffed with Paramedics on overtime costing the taxpayer approximately 15 million a year. This doesn’t include sickness or injury incurred while working these extra hours. To staff these ambulances normally, would cost approximately 9 million.
    Paramedics are for the most part, are very busy. I seldom see my station during my shift, and usually go from call to call without seeing my station, and if I do, it is to restock, organize stock, clean my station, clean my ambulance and try to find time to take care of the necessities of life (eating, washroom, etc.).
    There are only 3,471 Paramedics in the province working out of 470 ambulances (including spare vehicles). We did 534,688 calls in 2007/2008 (excluding hospital waits and area stand-bys). If you take these numbers in perspective, Paramedics had contact with 1 in 8 people living in the province BC. If you are to compare the BC Ambulance Service with any other ambulance service. You will see very quickly that we are, by far, the busiest.

  24. Gizem says:

    Teachers have pupil ratios and Nurses have paniett ratios. Both for good reason!Imagine teachers and nurses being given more pupils/panietts each year than the year before, again and again, with no increase in pay, no chance to refuse and being told they can’t strike or else they get fined $1000 s!Yes . this would cause untold stress and drive some nurses and teachers to resign or even take more drastic action.Currently paramedics get as many cases thrown at them as AV can dispatch in their shift and often hours beyond it. They have to cop the anger of panietts and relatives for being late, as a result of the backlog of cases. Any wonder that paramedics get more stressed than others in the community! Oh.. and consider the kind of work they do, making life-saving decisions about paniett-care using a wide variety of skills, equipment and drugs! STRESS+++One solution:How about a maximum number of panietts/cases per shift with anything over that number, attracting a productivity bonus.Then see, how long it takes for AV to stop nuisance calls and finally manage workload appropriately. Result = Stress and fatigue levels WILL drop.Stress-free, Fresh and well supported paramedics are less likely to make mistakes. That’s who you want to attend you when you have your heart attack! Right?

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