Whistler paramedics push for essential services designation

Local paramedics are asking public to support petition ahead of April 9 deadline

Whistler paramedics are seeking the community’s help with a citizen initiative campaign that aims to see B.C. paramedics become an essential service.

Paramedics across the province have launched a campaign seeking their inclusion in the Fire and Police Services Bargaining Act, a goal they’re hoping to turn into reality with a petition.

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Currently, the B.C. paramedics’ union is one of 20 that sits under the Faculty Bargaining Act, which also governs hospital support staff like pharmacy techs, food and beverage workers and sanitation employees.

“One of the problems with us not being an essential service is that if all of those other unions within our bargaining act decide they want to go on strike, it doesn’t matter if every single one of us says no, we have to strike,” explained Whistler paramedic Tessa Easthope.

This also means that if the paramedics union and their employer, BC Ambulance, aren’t able to agree on contract negotiations (their current contract is next up for renewal in 2019), their only option would be to strike.

“The last thing any paramedic wants to do is not show up to their job,” said Easthope.

If the Fire and Police Services Bargaining Act were to be amended to include paramedics, thereby deeming them an essential service, they would lose their current right to strike but gain access to a third-party mediator and binding arbitration in the event of a disagreement.

If this were to come into effect, “it would be the first time, personally I feel, like we would have a fair say,” Easthope said. “Paramedics and the ambulance is a very young profession, so we’re just now coming to a time where we’ve figured out (its role within the community), and how to make that work.”

In order for the petition to be successful, it must be signed by 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the 85 electoral districts in B.C. by midnight on April 9 — only 90 days from when the initiative was launched. If paramedics are able to obtain that 10 per cent, the petition will be sent to a referendum.

In Whistler, paramedics have been spending their weekends canvassing at some busy local spots like Nesters, the IGA and Meadow Park, posting their locations on local Facebook pages and working to gather as many signatures as they can before the deadline.
“So far the response from the public has been really great,” said Easthope. “Usually people are pretty surprised to find out that we’re not an essential service.”

As of Thursday (March 2), Easthope said the Sea to Sky electoral district was in need of 1,326 more signatures by next month’s deadline, adding that she’s heard the province-wide pace is on track to achieve numbers everywhere except Vancouver.

While the vast majority of the community has little interaction with paramedics in their daily lives, Easthope hopes the campaign will serve as a reminder that it doesn’t mean they’re any less essential.

“As far as how important we are to the community, I think anyone who’s ever had to use us can attest to that,” she said. “Until you need us, it’s really not that important, but definitely it’s great to know that option is there. We’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week waiting in case something does happen.”

For more information about the campaign, visit yourparamedics.ca.

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