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Striking Paramedics to meet with labour minister

BC Minister of Labour Murray Coell has invited representatives of the province’s paramedics, mired down in a bitter labour dispute since April 1, to meet with him on September 8.

A union spokesman is cautiously optimistic, while a Ministry spokesman declined to speculate about what might be discussed or what the results of the meeting would be.

The early September meeting with Minister Coell will include CUPE 873 president John Strohmaier, who represents striking paramedics, and CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill.

“We’re hoping for some sort of resolution,” CUPE media spokesman BJ Chute told The Tyee in a phone interview August 28. “We have no indication of what the minister has on his mind, but the fact he is asking to talk is hopeful. I wouldn’t think he would hold a meeting if he was going to use the legislate-back-to-work option.”

Chute said his members were very frustrated by the long dispute, and that many paramedics were watching the outcome of the strike to decide whether to stay in the profession. He said the government needs to move swiftly to add more ambulances and more staff to an overloaded system.

“We want to be back at the bargaining table,” Chute said. “We are trying to improve a broken service. Our fear is that someone will die unnecessarily. The government is endangering lives. They are making it more and more difficult for us to provide the service we want to deliver.”

CUPE represents over 3500 full and part time paramedics across the province. The demands that underlie the long lived dispute include increased staffing levels, faster response times, a multi-year contract and wage parity with other emergency responders.

Gordon Williams, who speaks for the Ministry of Labour, declined to comment on the upcoming meeting, its possible agenda or the prospects of government action to legislate an end to the labour dispute when contacted on August 28.

Tom Sandborn is a regular contributor to The Tyee.

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