Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Falcon's cry - updated

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!

BC Liberal privateer Kevin Falcon has no sympathy, he says, for paramedics who should work overtime whenever demanded. Falcon accused the paramedics of jeopardizing patient lives by refusing overtime and leaving the ambulance service short staffed. Does Falcon hold himself accountable for jeopardizing patient lives by refusing to hire sufficient staff to keep the ambulances rolling without forced overtime?

Instead of negotiating wages and conditions, Falcon and his Liberal friends imposed a contract. However, not before sitting immovably for eight months at the non-bargaining table. They preferred to dictate conditions by legislation. The alternative was to negotiate or arbitrate a contract fairly and hire staff to meet regular needs.

Falcon says ending the strike by legislation was necessary because of the current incidence of influenza. That would be the same influenza that B.C.'s medical health officer Dr. Perry Kendall says is declining. Of course, the Minister was disingenuous. He's comfortable with that condition though because he's in it frequently.

Clearly, Olympic commitments and appearances are the driving forces for legislation. Since the essential service providers were in a non-strike, continuing to work, we can be sure the Government's primary objective was to remove signs of the dispute from public view while media spotlights shine here during the Games.

But truth and honesty never trouble a BC Liberal. They turn to the Public Affairs Bureau and arm their foot soldiers with scripts, aimed at maintaining consistency in disinformation. One of the talking points being used aims at slandering employee representatives:

They got off the wrong step with their union. They obviously had some bad advice because they asked for a whole bunch of things that weren't possible in the present economy.

Ah, yes. It was the wrong time for many things:
  • A multi-year contract;
  • Movement toward parity with other emergency responders;
  • Reduction in employer's demands for chronic overtime;
  • Reduction in unpaid travel time;
  • Commitment to faster response times;
  • Improved training and safety.
Yes, merely the wrong time. That is the BC Liberals' message. Of course, paramedics couldn't choose the moment. Right moments were in short supply, used up in 2007 when Liberals gave 41 MLA's an average of $800,000 each in retroactive pension contributions or in 2008 when senior Liberal staff gained salary lifts over two years that ranged from 50% to 80%. Read Hands . . . for more.

Throughout an extended period attempting negotiations, paramedics sought a wage increase but their primary goal was for a comprehensive examination of staffing matters. As part of the legislated return to work, the government appointed an industrial inquiry commission but with a very limited mandate. The commission is asked to suggest ways to improve labor relations between the union and ambulance service. The first step to do that would be to extend the mandate of the inquiry commission to include the comprehensive review asked for by CUPE.

The limited term of the imposed contract - it expires shortly after the Olympics end - and the minimal inquiry mandate suggests BC Liberals have another plan entirely. CUPE BC President Barry O'Neill provides a clue:
We believe that behind this attitude lurks an alternate agenda to disassemble the world-class ambulance service British Columbians were once so proud of.

Disassembly, privatization; take your pick. It's coming to the once proud BC Ambulance Service in 2010. That expectation is supported by:
  • privatization ideologue as Health Minister;
  • part time contractor as CEO, experienced in politics, not in health care;
  • refusal to negotiate monetary AND non-monetary conditions;
  • refusal to hire sufficient full time paramedics for ordinary operations;
  • short term imposed contract;
  • restricted mandate of the inquiry commission.
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For an insider's view, read Paramedic states his case from the Barriere Star Journal.
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A personal note:


We develop biases through experiences in life. I admit to being bent positively toward paramedics because every one that crossed my path demonstrated professionalism and deep humanity. Few other professions can match that record.

I recall the last day of a family member. She lived a long life, loved greatly by the family who gave her purpose. Illness sapped her strength near the end but she was in our home for all but the last hours. When paramedics arrived to transport her to hospital, everyone knew it was a one-way ride. The ambulance attendants worked with care and compassion and did everything possible to make difficult moments more comfortable, even for the grieving child who held her hand that day.

Our family was unknown to the two paramedics before that day, yet, they went beyond professional obligations. Gentle actions, reassurance, respect and dignity were so naturally expressed that all felt blessed by their presence.

In another situation, organizing a safety clinic for minor hockey teams, I met Tim Jones, a member of the BC Ambulance Service. He provided time and expertise and helped put together a useful program about on-ice response to injury or accident. He did it without reward or hesitation. As he does regularly with North Shore Rescue, Jones stepped up when the community asked.

And, like many others, I've seen paramedics serving at vehicle collisions or other injury sites, even when the tragic scene churns the stomach of the strongest person.

I don't understand the BC Government's willingness to treat these public servants with such disregard. The issue isn't money, it's respect.

Unfortunately, the BC Liberals run a massive deficit in that.

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3 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post Norman, it says it all. I do have a theory about the respect thing. It is simply what the Lieberals do towards all things union. It doesn't matter what you do or how professional you are, it you are organized in a union, then well...you are evil and must be stopped. Teachers are a fine example of this organized hatred. Even the general public hate teachers, and when asked, cannot give a definitive answer as to why. In fact, in the last several decades we have seen the decline of the working class because no one is prepared to fight on behalf of unions. This just equals loss for everyone in society.

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  2. Thank you for your thoughts and kind words Norman. Very clear and concise and states what we have thought all along. Interesting times are ahead for B.C. in regards to the ambulance service. I only hope is that we do not regress back 35 years in time when funeral homes and service clubs volunteered ambulance service with little or no training.

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  3. Thank you for your elloquent and concise commentary. As a paramedic, I am bound by mutiple layers of ethical and legal prohibition when it comes to speaking out about those matters that have directly impacted a patient's care. It is unfortunate that the term "Strike" is almost universally perceived as being a self-serving grab for money, job security and other issues.

    I have been a paramedic for longer than virtually all of our serving legislators have been politicians. I am educated and have spent years being specifically trained to do what I do. A politican, by contrast, needs only align themselves with the biggest huckster to be elected.

    The imposition of Bill 21 shows not only that the Liberal government is as dictatorial, totalitarian and self-serving as the worst political regime in the civilized world, it also shows - by virtue of the disgusting display of party solidarity in the forcing of this bill, that none of us votes for an elected representative, we vote for a party and all its worst agends.

    Whether you agree with the paramedics or not, the total usurping of the collective bargaining process must be fought - plain and simple. You may not want me to have a raise, you may not want them to improve the ambulance service, but their tactics were wrong and they WILL be fought.

    This one act of petty self-serving brutality is going to cost BC hugely. There will almost certainly be a general strike, and the millions of viewers and spectators of the Olympics will almost certainly have an insight into the right to freedom of speech.

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