New Brunswick

Paramedics union reaches deal with Ambulance NB on bilingualism

The union representing paramedics has reached a compromise with Ambulance New Brunswick about bilingual staffing, but isn’t ruling out carrying on the language fight in the courtroom.

CUPE says it's still concerned how unilingual paramedics can meet legal requirements for bilingual service

Trent Piercy, secretary of CUPE Local 4848, speaks to paramedics at a December protest over Ambulance New Brunswick's new scheduling plan to meet bilingual requirements. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The union representing paramedics has reached a compromise with Ambulance New Brunswick about bilingual staffing, but isn't ruling out carrying on the language fight in the courtroom.

Judy Astle, the president of Local 4848 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says Ambulance New Brunswick has agreed to change how it calls in part-time and casual employees for extra shifts.

But the union is not ruling out making legal arguments on its members' obligations on bilingualism.

It may apply to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Danny and Murielle Sonier, who say they could not get ambulance service in French during a medical call in 2013.

The Soniers are suing both Ambulance New Brunswick and the provincial government.

We can't snap our fingers and make them [bilingual].- Judy Astle , president, Local 4848 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees

"Our lawyer tells me that all options are being considered" on intervening in the lawsuit, CUPE spokesperson Danielle Savoie told CBC News.

"No decision has been made."

She said no one would do an interview about the lawsuit.

Ambulance New Brunswick has already acknowledged it didn't meet its legal obligations in the Sonier case.

But the case remains in court to determine if they're entitled to a legal remedy, and if Ambulance New Brunswick's new plan on bilingual services meets the requirements of the Official Languages Act.

New scheduling system

That plan included a new scheduling system, implemented late last year, that would ensure at least one member of a two-person crew was bilingual.

The system saw bilingual part-time and casual employees called in to work open shifts first, followed by bilingual full-timers on overtime, ahead of unilingual part-timers and casuals.

The union said that discriminated against unilingual members and it held protests in Fredericton and Moncton in December.

Now, Astle says, unilingual part–timers and casuals will move up the priority list, though bilingual part-timers and casuals will still be first in line.

Ambulance New Brunswick confirmed the changes, "with feedback from the paramedics' union," in an email statement.

"When we fill short–term leave requests, we will first offer the shift to an employee who has the language proficiency needed to achieve a bilingual crew at straight time compensation," says spokesperson Karen Rawlines, a reference to regular non–overtime pay.

"If necessary, we would then move to an employee who does not meet the language proficiency at straight time … We always work to ensure each ambulance remains staffed with the bilingual capacity to serve patients in their language of choice," says Rawlines.

Astle says the change is a reasonable compromise, but says the union is still concerned about how unilingual paramedics can meet legal requirements for bilingual service.

She says the problem is a lack of bilingual paramedics. At a recent workshop she attended for new employees, only four of 13 were bilingual, Astle said. "We can't snap our fingers and make them."

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