VANCOUVER – CUPE members, faculty, activists and students braved the cold (for Vancouver) weather today to rally at the University of British Columbia in support of free collective bargaining.
The midday rally at UBC was the latest in a series of public protests against the provincial government legislating 3,500 striking ambulance paramedics “back to work” with Bill 21. That repressive legislation was passed Nov. 7, while paramedics were working under Essential Services orders and in the midst of voting on a government contract offer – a shameful first in Canadian labour history.
Colleen Garbe, president of CUPE 116, said it was fitting to be gathered in front of UBC’s Goddess of Democracy statue to show solidarity with ambulance paramedics in the fight for free collective bargaining.
CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill told the crowd “It may be cold right now, but I can guarantee to Kevin Falcon and Gordon Campbell that things will really heat up in the next few months if they continue to deny basic rights to workers and cut funds for critical health and education programs.”
Tim Chu of the UBC Alma Mater Society talked about the training that our highly-skilled paramedics get for themselves, both to qualify for the job and to maintain and improve their skills. “It is shameful that paramedics, who often end up with big student debts, are forced to work on-call for $2 an hour.”
Elizabeth Hodgson, President of the UBC Faculty Association, made links with the struggle of paramedics and the 2010 round of bargaining for many public sector workers in 2010 and committed to demand the right to free collective bargaining. “Faculty are good teachers and we will help to teach Gordon Campbell the lesson that no bargaining is no bargain.”
NDP labour critic Raj Chouhan said “the Campbell government learned nothing from its earlier legislation that attacked health, education and social services workers and was partially struck down by the Supreme Court.” Chouhan called the 40-hour debate in the BC Legislature to try to block Bill 21 “very moving – with paramedics and supporters holding vigil with NDP MLAs who were fighting the Bill.”
CUPE 873 president John Strohmaier vowed that “it will be a cold day in hell before CUPE members and other workers will sit back and accept Bill 21 and other attacks on free collective bargaining.” He added that the BC Liberals could stop this dispute now “by coming to the table, rolling up their sleeves and being prepared to sit down with workers and bargain.”
Meanwhile, members of CUPE locals 15, 116 and 7000 who were taking an anti-bullying and harassment workshop took time out to visit Vancouver – False Creek Liberal MLA Mary McNeil’s office downtown. McNeil is Minister of State for the Olympics. They were there to tell the MLA to negotiate fairly with paramedics.
The 25 activists rode the Canada Line, which stops metres from the constituency office and heard from Paul Faoro, CUPE 15 president; Virginia Kronstein, paramedics Local 873 regional vice-president for the Lower Mainland; and Mike Jackson, CUPE 1004 president.
After marching through the streets of Yaletown, the protesters gathered on Pacific Avenue waving to passing drivers who honked their horns in support.