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B.C. 911 operators could be next to take job action as talks break down with employer

911 dispatcher. Police dispatch stock. File / Global News

A day of labour chaos in B.C. continued to ramp up Friday as talks appeared to break down between 911 operators and their employer.

CUPE 873-02, which represents 99 per cent of B.C.’s 911 dispatch call-takers and their support staff, said in a statement the mediated talks reached an impasse Friday.

The union accused E-Comm 911 of being unwilling to address key union concerns like low wages, cost of living, overtime, missed breaks, poor working conditions, burnout and high turnover.

READ MORE: B.C. to overhaul 911 dispatch system after woman dies following ambulance delay

CUPE 873-02 Unit Chair Matthew Bordewick said the bargaining process has revealed E-Comm is “desperately underfunded,” leading to “unacceptable” wait times.

“For an organization that provides such a critical public service, it clearly lacks the funding and resources to deliver the service,” Bordewick said.

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“As a result, E-Comm has been consistently unable to meet its targets for calls answered and times to dispatch.”

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The union says job action won’t be considered until essential service levels have been established by the Labour Board, suggesting a full strike would still allow a minimum number of dispatchers to continue working.

CUPE and E-Comm are now focusing on addressing those staffing needs, Bordewick said.

“We will continue to provide the excellent public service we have always delivered, but we will also be mobilizing our members to draw attention to the lack of funding to this organization and the impact it has on the lives and mental health of our members,” he said.

Bordewick added while union members are willing to help address E-Comm’s “structural challenges,” workers “also deserve a fair contract.”

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READ MORE: Call 911 twice? Port Coquitlam offers unique emergency protocol for city staff

In its own statement, E-Comm said the mediator has not shut down the talks and is continuing his work.

The employer said it “has expressed a desire to continue bargaining and will certainly make itself available once the Union indicates it is available to come to the table.”

“The Union’s statements regarding the employer are meant to pressure us to bargain in public,’” said E-Comm CEO Oliver Grüter-Andrew.

“We’d rather talk at the table and work together to address our staffing challenges and the many opportunities to advance public safety collaboratively.”

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The news of the bargaining breakdown came on the first day of job action for 5,000 Metro Vancouver bus and SeaBus operators, along with support staff, who have reached an impasse with their own employer.

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Operators are working out of uniform, while maintenance workers are refusing to work overtime as part of first-phase actions that are expected to ramp up in the weeks ahead.

Friday also saw B.C.’s 28 legal aid staff lawyers stage a one-day walkout and picketing at the Legal Services Society (LSS) headquarters in downtown Vancouver, marking their first day of job action.

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