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Hopes high strike is nearing resolution

Paramedics and the British Columbia Ambulance Service (BCAS) have been back at the bargaining table since Tuesday morning, Sept.

Paramedics and the British Columbia Ambulance Service (BCAS) have been back at the bargaining table since Tuesday morning, Sept. 22, and while no resolution had been reached by press deadline Thursday morning, hopes are high that the paramedics' six-month strike may be on the verge of resolution.

"We're prepared to work 24/7," union spokesperson B.J. Chute told one Lower Mainland media outlet earlier this week. "I don't see it being a long process, given where we broke off, but you never know."

This follows a tumultuous week for the province's striking paramedics and the BCAS.

Last week, representatives of the 3,500-member Ambulance Paramedics of BC (APBC), who have been on strike since April 1, delivered a settlement offer to the BCAS. The union asked for an inquiry into the state of the ambulance service, as well as a three per cent wage increase, a 1.2 per cent labour market adjustment, and a $4,000 one-time signing bonus.

After BCAS rejected the offer, union president John Strolhmaier directed paramedics to work only their regularly scheduled shifts at a support rally in Richmond Friday, Sept.18. This move was quickly touted as an "overtime ban," though Strolhmaier dodged the term in media reports.

That evening, the number of ambulances in Metro Vancouver dropped by 30 per cent, and Whistler, Hope and Agassiz had no ambulance crews available that evening, according to media reports.

Saturday evening, Sept. 19, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mary Humphries ruled that under the essential service order, the union wasn't allowed to tell its striking workers to vary from their usual work patterns, which have included working overtime hours.

Following the ruling, the union promptly rescinded its directive.

Then on Tuesday paramedics resumed talks with the BCAS, with third-party mediator Mark Atkinson in attendance.

A union press release said that paramedics would be bargaining for recruitment and retention, wages, health and safety and training.

"The people of British Columbia expect and deserve the best ambulance service possible, and a negotiated settlement that addresses our concerns is the best way to help that happen," Strohmaier said in the press release.

Due to a media blackout, neither the paramedics union not the BCAS was able to comment about the progress of the talks, except to say that they were continuing.