Union representing Ontario's Ornge paramedics in favour of strike if necessary

WATCH: Front-line workers say the battle to get COVID-19 under control remains a constant struggle as ICU admissions continue day after day. Katherine Ward speaks with medical experts from across southern Ontario to see how hospitals are dealing with increased demands.

Ontario’s air ambulance paramedics have raised the possibility of going on strike — an “absolute last consideration” if they can’t land an exemption from a provincial law that caps their salaries.

Unifor, the union representing Ornge workers, said Sunday that paramedics voted 94 per cent in favour of strike action, if necessary, in a vote tabulated on Friday.

Ornge paramedics have taken issue with Bill 124, which came into effect in 2019 and caps public sector wage increases to one per cent a year.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias called the wage-cap law a “foolish piece of legislation” in a virtual press conference on Sunday, adding that the one per cent bump is “well below even the rate of inflation.”

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Ornge air ambulance working around the clock to transfer critical COVID-19 patients across Ontario

“Enough is enough,”Dias said. “We can’t keep telling people how essential they are how important (they are), and then pass legislation that takes these paramedics and puts them into a separate bucket than all the other paramedics in this province. That doesn’t make any sense.”

The union members’ vote was to determine whether they’d be willing to take strike action. If they do choose to strike, they would first have to give notice.

Dias said Unifor is putting together an essential services protocol, which would outline services that are deemed essential for paramedics.

A Unifor spokesperson said paramedics will continue to provide those services. Unifor added that a date has not been secured to mediate the negotiations of an essential services agreement with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Ornge said union members rejected a recent tentative agreement that complied with Bill 124.

Paramedics who work for Ornge have been without a contract since July 31.

A spokesman for the medical transportation service said he believes both parties will be able to come to an agreement.

The Ministry of Labour said in an emailed statement Sunday that it has to remain neutral on labour relations matters.

“We encourage the employer and the union to make every effort to resolve their differences at the bargaining table,” a spokesperson for the ministry said.

The Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ornge paramedics have been instrumental in helping transfer critically ill COVID-19 patients to intensive care units across the province. They also helped implement Ontario’s vaccination plan in remote communities.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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