Paramedics and supporters in Sault Ste. Marie demonstrated in front of City Hall on January 8, calling for a new collective agreement for EMS workers represented by Local 1359.
The demonstration was organized to remind city councillors that paramedics need a fair deal, which takes into account issues such as: lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and benefits between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD.
The group, made up of paramedics, nurses, retired health care workers, union members, family and supporters, marched into the council chambers after the rally with signs and Unifor flags.
“Our employer is not negotiating fairly. City representatives continually talk about the debt and nothing else,” said Mary Casola, Local 1359 unit chair and paramedic of 28 years. “They offered workers a measly wage increase of 10 cents an hour, per year. That’s 0.25 per cent. But as our sign says - ‘10 cents is non-sense.’”
Casola said that in Thunder Bay, EMS workers recently negotiated pay increases of 2.5, 2.6 and 2.65 per cent a year and there remains a number of important gaps in compensation, particularly as it relates to the workers’ compensation top up and the lack of shift premiums, which is an industry standard.
National representative Fred Bond said the City of Sault Ste. Marie is also trying to erode sick time, in addition to failing to address scheduling needs so that paramedics can have a meal break during their shift.
“Unifor paramedics often work through their breaks because of emergency calls – they are professionals, but that doesn’t mean being constantly on call doesn’t take its toll.” Bond said other key items at the bargaining table are job security and contracting out.
The 54 members of Local 1359 have been without a contract since March 2017. The two sides will be starting conciliation on January 12.