Unionists rally for paramedics

Shuswap Columbia District Labour Council Vice-President Michelle Cole (center right) introduces paramedic and union shop steward Antoinette Halberstadt (center right, holding the clipboard) at a rally to support provincial paramedics. The rally was held at Grizzly Plaza late Wednesday afternoon. David F. Rooney photo

By David F. Rooney

Members of the Shuswap Columbia District Labour Council (SCDLC) rallied in the crisp clear air of Grizzly Plaza late Wednesday afternoon in support of BC Ambulance Service staff who were denied a negotiated contract agreement with the provincial government.

“Democracy for our whole society is at risk when workers are denied the fundamental human right of freely negotiating their working conditions with their employers, and when legally enshrined measures to ensure free and fair collective bargaining are thrown out the window,” said paramedic Antoinette Halberstadt.

“In the case of BC’s ambulance paramedics, the employer is you and your Liberal government. For about eight months your appointees at the so-called ‘bargaining table’ with the paramedics’ union, CUPE 873, never budged, never bargained, simply stuck to the bottom line you had given them, while the paramedics attempted to honour the terms of the impossible Essential Services Order (ESO) you had imposed on them. Despite the paramedics exhausting themselves and risking their own and their patients’ safety by working forced overtime etc under this ESO, despite the paramedics upholding the ESO, this government slapped them with Bill 21.”

Bill 21 was the legislation used by the BC Liberals to force the then-legally striking paramedics back to work. The Liberals said they were needed because of the H1N1 global pandemic. The World Health Organization has since been criticized for its handling of the pandemic. In essence, critics say it’s a case of the boy calling wolf. As for the BC Liberals claim Halberstadt and other union officials say the government wanted paramedics leashed because of concerns expressed by the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee.

Here’s a video of Halberstadt reading the open letter to Premier Gordon Campbell: