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Union sees little progress in recent paramedic talks

VANCOUVER – The union representing the province's striking paramedics says it is disappointed with last week's talks with the BC Ambulance Service aimed at ending the labour dispute that has now passed the 75-day mark.

“There didn’t appear to be any appetite from the employer to negotiate with us,” said CUPE 873 public education director BJ Chute.

The two days of talks mediated by Mark Atkinson began last Thursday and followed weeks of discussion between CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill and Ministry of Health Associate Deputy Minister Stephen Brown that found common ground to bring the parties back to the table.

The union presented their latest bargaining proposal and was expecting the BC Ambulance Service to do the same, Chute said.

“The employer came with absolutely no proposal whatsoever,” he said. “They didn’t present anything.”

Another meeting between the parties is scheduled for Thursday and Friday of this week.

A spokesperson from the BC Ambulance Service was unavailable for comment, however the following statement was forwarded on behalf of Lee Doney, Acting CEO of the Emergency Health Service Commission:

The BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) received a contract proposal from CUPE 873 during the talks on June 11 and 12.

BCAS is reviewing the details of the union’s recent proposal and doing the necessary costing work before providing a formal response to what’s been tabled.

BCAS is taking bargaining very seriously and have scheduled further meetings with the union and mediator Mark Atkinson on June 18 and 19.

Before last week’s meetings, both the union and employer said the parties were close on a number of issues, but that monetary issues had yet to be discussed.

Apart from wages, union demands include increased staffing levels, faster response times and a multi-year contract. The union has called on the province to appoint an independent mediator to resolve the labour dispute and has said it is open to interest arbitration.

The union executive will now tour the province and consult members about possible strike actions, Chute said.

“It’s important for us to seek direction from our membership to see where they would like the strike to go.”

The province’s paramedics are under an Essential Services Order, requiring service levels to be maintained and significantly restricting strike activities. However, escalating job action is being considered by the union, Chute said.

The union represents over 3,500 full-time and part-time paramedics and ambulance dispatchers around the province.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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