The union that represents Ontario’s air ambulance paramedics says its members are prepared to go on strike if they can’t land an exemption from a provincial law capping salaries for public employees.
Unifor says Ornge paramedics voted 94 per cent in favour of strike action, but described the move as an “absolute last consideration.”
Unifor National President Jerry Dias called the wage-cap law dubbed Bill 124 a “foolish piece of legislation” in a virtual press conference on Sunday.
The Bill came into effect in 2019 and caps public sector wage increases to one per cent a year, which Dias says is “well below even the rate of inflation.”
Paramedics who work for Ornge have been without a contract since July 31.
Ornge says union members rejected a recent tentative agreement that complied with Bill 124.
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.
Mark Etherington, a critical care flight paramedic who joined Dias at the press conference, says he’s worried about the emotional toll the pandemic is having on Ornge workers.
He says the mental health issues and post-traumatic stress that’s “about to emerge in this final wave of the pandemic is real.”
Union members voted on whether or not to strike on Friday. If they do choose to strike, they would first have to give notice.
Dias says the Ornge paramedics understand their responsibility during the COVID-19 crisis, adding going on strike is “the last thing in the world that anybody wants to do.”
A spokesman for the medical transportation service says he believes both parties will be able to come to an agreement.
Spokespeople for the provincial government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.