Striking paramedics told they can’t NOT work overtime

By David F. Rooney

They’ve been told they can’t not work overtime, but BC ambulance paramedics are nonetheless gleeful over a Supreme Court ruling that nipped their plan to stop working overtime in the bud.

“It’s great news, actually,” Antoinette Halberstadt, shop steward for Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 873 (Ambulance Paramedics of BC), said in an interview Sunday. “The employer wanted us charged with contempt of court, which the judge declined to do. And we didn’t have to pay court costs.

“The other part of the victory is that this has prompted the employer to return to talks on Tuesday with an independent mediator.”

BC’s 3,500 paramedics have officially been on strike since April but have been kept on the job by a government “essential service” order. Talks between the two sides have appeared to go nowhere ever since.

Last Friday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees decided to try and break the deadlock by asking its members to stop working overtime.

According to published news reports in Victoria, a B.C. Supreme Court judge upheld an essential-services order after CUPE told its members to refuse overtime work.

The judge found that the overtime ban, which began Friday night, constitutes a breach of the Labour Relations Board’s essential-services order, since the collective agreement includes some overtime.

Lee Doney, chief executive officer of the B.C. Ambulance Service, was quoted in the Victoria Times-Colonist as saying the service had little choice but to take the union to court.

“We don’t need to make patients the innocent pawns in this dispute,” said Doney, who noted ambulances based in Cumberland and Mill Bay haven’t been on the road since Friday night, while one ambulance each in Campbell River and Chemainus has also gone unstaffed.

A news release from the union said the union’s attempt to ban overtime came on the heels of “claims by the BC Ambulance Service that there are no staffing shortages.”

It said there are “hundreds of unfilled positions across the province that have paramedics overworked and the ambulance service critically understaffed.”

Halberstadt said the Revelstoke ambulance station schedule had “holes in it (on Friday and Saturday), when only one of our two ambulances have been staffed.”

“The same thing happened last week, i.e. we were down-staffed for three shifts,” she said. “This is not uncommon for rural stations like ours.”