Paramedics could switch unions, see pay hikes under new proposal
Health minister announces change 5 days after saying he wouldn't be rushed, unclear if CUPE will oppose
Just five days after he said he wouldn't be rushed into it, Health Minister Ted Flemming has announced a professional reclassification for paramedics that could move them into a new union and award them higher salaries.
Flemming told the legislature that ambulance paramedics will be reclassified as medical-science professionals effective next April, a recognition that their jobs have become more complex and specialized.
"The position of paramedic has evolved tremendously over the years, seeing significant changes to their scope of practice," he said.
MLAs from all parties and a large crowd of paramedics in the public gallery applauded the announcement.
The union that now represents the more than 800 paramedics, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, has the right to oppose the reclassification before the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board.
Should the reclassification be approved, the paramedics will shift to another labour organization, the New Brunswick Union, and could be in line for wage increases.
Joel Mattatall, the paramedic who chaired a committee pushing for the change, told reporters the issue wasn't salaries but recognition of their specialized work and college-level training.
"This is about recognizing paramedics for the valuable service they provide to their communities each and every day as medical professionals," he said.
The timing of Flemming's announcement was striking. Both the Tories and the People's Alliance promised to make the change during the 2018 provincial election campaign.
But last Thursday People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin complained that the government wasn't moving fast enough on it and threatened to start voting against government bills if it didn't happen soon.
Flemming responded at the time that he wanted to make the change but wouldn't be rushed.
Speed picked up
"I'm not going to be boxed in, in the legislature, when someone gets up and says, 'I demand that you do this and say you're going to do it now.'"
Asked what had changed in the last five days that allowed him to do it, Flemming said Tuesday: "I know this is a shock to some people, but sometimes government does move at a pretty good speed."
[Paramedics] fought for this, they earned it, and we were simply here to help navigate that politically.- Kris Austin, People's Alliance leader
Mattatall said the issue "really took on a life of its own" after Austin's threat last week, but he said the process was already well underway with "an extensive and thorough four-month classification analysis" by government officials at a conclusion.
Austin questioned whether the announcement was going to happen without his push. "Sure it was," he joked to reporters.
But he gave most of the credit to Mattatall and others on his committee.
"The success of this lands squarely with the paramedics. They fought for this, they earned it, and we were simply here to help navigate that politically."
CUPE did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the union will oppose the reclassification.
Mattatall said it would be "insane" for that union to use membership dues paid by paramedics to fight a change that 97 per cent of them had voted to request.
Liberal MLA Jean-Claude d'Amours and Green Leader David Coon said they support the reclassification.