Fifty-Four paramedics in Sault Ste. Marie, represented by Unifor Local 1359, have been without a contract since March 2017 and now the employer, the City, has circumvented the traditional bargaining process.
Rather than the employer sending its proposal to the bargaining committee, in an aggressive turn of events the City emailed its final proposal to the members directly.
“Last week’s tactics to directly bargain with members are not only childish and manipulative, but have backfired,” said Laurie Lessard-Brown, President of Unifor Local 1359. “Our members stand together in solidarity now more than ever.”
With the proposal sent out late last Tuesday, March 27 the City only notified Unifor’s Director of Health Care Andy Savela regarding the move a few hours prior to the email.
To date Savela indicated that there have been some gains made in negotiations but much remains to be discussed and resolved as the employer is far apart from the priorities of members. Although the City has proposed a wage increase of 1.5%, issues such as shift and weekend premiums, and vacation entitlements are yet to be agreed upon. In a last ditch attempt to further delay a labour dispute for the paramedics, the City applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) at the end of February to dispute whether the essential service agreement is valid. This dispute was a shock to the union as the employer had previously agreed to in the last round of negotiations.
“The City of Sault Ste. Marie would rather spend huge sums of tax-payers money on legal fees trying to delay this strike, rather than bargain with these hard-working paramedics,” said Laurie Lessard-Brown, Unifor Local 1359 President. “It is disappointing that the Mayor and Councilors are wasting so much time and money.”
Since emergency medical services are considered an essential service, as defined by the Ambulance Act, paramedics are not currently able to strike without an essential service agreement in place.
Representatives of Local 1359 will be appearing before the OLRB on April 4 with the aim of seeking a resolution on the essential service agreement and as a result the union could seek job action. Seeking a resolution on essential services will entail determining service standards like how many ambulances and staff will remain on call and the types of calls that will be answered in the event of a strike.
With a mandate from the membership, the local was in a legal strike position as of midnight on February 28, but without the essential services act in place the union is waiting on the OLRB for a ruling.