New Brunswick

Paramedics shadow Liberal leader to protest staff shortages across the province

A New Brunswick paramedic union leader is following Liberal Leader Brian Gallant on the campaign trail hoping to bring attention to workplace issues in the final days of the election.

Union says bilingual hiring requirement to blame

Greg McConaghy, president of CUPE Local 4848, says he's following the Liberal leader's campaign bus to events around the province to highlight workplace problems faced by paramedics. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News)

The president of a union representing Ambulance New Brunswick paramedics is shadowing Liberal Leader Brian Gallant on the campaign trail hoping to bring attention to workplace issues in the final days of the election. 

Greg McConaghy, president of the paramedics and dispatchers union CUPE local 4848, called the move a "cry for help."

The union has waged a public relations campaign called #systemCRITICAL to bring attention to workforce issues, including staff shortages that have left ambulances parked. ​McConaghy and another paramedic held signs with the slogan at a Gallant campaign event in Riverview on Wednesday. 

Gallant met with union members Tuesday evening after his bus was diverted from an event in Miramichi because of their protest.

"We've listened to their concerns," Gallant said Wednesday morning in Saint John. "We understand why they are frustrated, because there are challenges when it comes to paramedics and ambulance services in this province like every other province across the country."

He offered the same message at a later stop in Moncton while the paramedics watched from a corner of the room holding signs and flags. 

An ambulance parked in Minto. Paramedics say emergency calls are not being answered because they don't have enough staff. (CBC)

McConaghy said job postings are filled by part-time or casual workers, not full-time employees. Language qualifications are a factor, he said. 

A labour arbitrator ordered Ambulance New Brunswick  in April  to weaken its requirement for bilingual paramedics in areas of the province where there's less demand for second-language service.

The New Brunswick's Labour and Employment Board agreed with the union in an August decision that the province had failed to follow the decision and ordered it to take action within 30 days. 

McConaghy says the government still hasn't taken action and that's why they've been following Gallant. 

Greg McConaghy, president of CUPE LOCAL 4848, shakes Liberal Leader Brian Gallant's hand as Gallant left a campaign event in Riverview on Wednesday. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News)

But the decision is in conflict with an order by a Court of Queen's Bench judge issued in November last year that implies it cannot.

The province filed an application for judicial review in May, asking the court to quash the arbitration decision. Health Minister Benoît Bourque said in April complying with the arbitration decision would risk violating the court order. 

There's no decision yet and the case is next in court Dec. 20.

McConaghy said the dispute is hurting New Brunswickers who need help in an emergency.

"You're seeing around the province what's happening: ambulances not responding to calls, not being able to get to calls," he said. "We're in a crisis."

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