Prior to 1974, the British Columbia Relief Service was provided by a mix of private and public organizations, including funeral homes and community groups. There was no unity or standardization between these organizations, which led to poor working conditions with low wages. The first union meeting was held in the former emergency room of the Vancouver General Hospital. The meeting took place between Ben Pietz and Charley Redhead and there was talk of improving the working conditions of the paramedics. The metropolitan ambulance cabin crew worked 24 hours a day and 24 hours off, and an extra day each 4th week. For 86 and a half hours a week, they were paid $90.00. Associated ambulance personnel worked 114 hours a week. After joining the National Union of Public Employees, we received our own premises. Local 873 received its charter in March 1963. After the first contract, hours were reduced to 56 hours per week and there was a salary increase of 10.00 $US per week. The National Union of Public Employees joined the National Union of Public Service Employees, and CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) was established.
The first executive was Brother Ben Pietz, President; Brother John Redekop, Vice-President; Brother Charley Redhead, registration secretary; Brother Fred Wescott, Treasurer. At that time, the Union had about two dozen members and the seniority list was printed on the last page of the treaty. In the search for a Union, we have talked about the National Union of Public Employees, and this is the Union to which we should join. With the help of Bill Black of Local 180, the Employees Union Hospital, the members were signed. The first members of the Union came from Metropolitan Ambulance, which served Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster. It quickly spread to Associated Ambulance in Burnaby, then Richmond, Delta and Surrey Ambulance. In 1974, the NDP government established Service B.C. Ambulance and CUPE Local 873 members provided all of the B.C. pre-hospital supplies in the region.
Today we have over 4400 members and it is Brother Ben Pietz and Brother Charley Redhead that we can thank for the beginnings of a first class service.
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