Shocked. It is the reaction that Penticton paramedic Chantel Reems said she most often gets from the public when they learn paramedics are not deemed an essential service in the province.
Reems, and others in her profession around B.C., are collecting signatures for a petition that would give them the same collective bargaining rights as firefighters and police officers.
“It would ensure that we can’t strike and they can’t lock us out so we can provide better service to the communities,” said Reems, who was standing outside the South Okanagan Events Centre collecting signatures on Saturday night.
The initiative, spearheaded by Victoria paramedic Josh Henshaw, requires 10 per cent of registered voters to sign in each of the 85 electoral districts (which will be 316,000 signatures). Once they have the support needed in the electoral areas, the initiative petition will be sent to Elections B.C. and then to the legislature. It is a similar process that was used to reverse the HST.
“We definitely have over 1,000 signatures here and I think our capture is over 4,600, so we are well on our way and the support is increasing. I believe the Sunshine Coast area has got to their 10 per cent mark and a lot of other areas are not too far behind,” said Reems.
The signatures must be obtained by April 10 in each electoral district so legislative action or a referendum can take place.
“If this goes through it would take a little bit of pressure off of us. If the current bargaining unit we are in, the hospital workers, go on strike right now we couldn’t actually deliver a patient to the hospital because we would be crossing a picket line. Making us an essential service alleviates a lot of stress for us and eventually it would mean we would be giving better service to communities, which is important. We don’t want big wait times,” said Reems.
There are roughly 4,000 ambulance paramedics under the Health Authorities Act in B.C., including a combined 40 full-time and part-time paramedics in Penticton. They bargain along with hospital support staff like lab techs, clerks and cleaning staff. Paramedics make up just 10 per cent of that unit, giving them a limited voice, which is why they are canvassing the public for support with great reception, said Reems.
“It is so nice to have the positive support that we have been seeing from the community. I was part of the strike action in 2009 and this is a way more positive experience for sure. People have asked if it is just for wage increases, well no, but if that comes out of it in the end then that is awesome. What we are most concerned about is service to the communities and helping people,” said Reems.
Paramedics were forced back on the job with back-to-work legislation from the province in late 2009 with a three per raise after a bitter strike.
Reems said comments coming from the public is much different this time around.
“We usually see people on their worst days and they aren’t happy to see us. It’s nice to hear people’s stories of how we have helped them and the support they are giving back to us by signing the petition.”
Canvassers will be at the Keremeos rec centre on Feb. 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reems said they will also be at the three Penticton Vees games at the SOEC on Feb. 17, Feb. 18 and Feb. 19. Signatures will also be collected at the Oliver Community Centre Seedy Saturday event on Feb. 19 from 10 a.m. to noon. In Summerland they are scheduled to be at the research centre on March 25 from 10 a.m. to noon.
For more information, to view all scheduled dates for signature collection in your community or to offer services as a canvasser visit www.yourparamedics.ca.