The union representing Ontario’s air ambulance paramedics says its members are prepared to go on strike if they cannot get an exemption from a provincial law that limits public servants’ salaries.
Unifor says Ornge’s paramedics voted 94 percent in favor of the strike action, but described the action as “a last absolute consideration”.
Unifor’s national president, Jerry Dias, called the salary cap law dubbed Bill 124 as “silly legislation” at a virtual news conference on Sunday.
The bill came into effect in 2019 and limits public sector wage increases to one percent a year, which Dias says is “well below even the rate of inflation”.
Paramedics working for Ornge have been without a contract since July 31.
Ornge says union members rejected a recent interim agreement that complied with Bill 124.
Ornge’s paramedics have helped to transfer critically ill patients with COVID-19 to intensive care units across the province. They also helped to implement Ontario’s vaccination plan in remote communities.
Mark Etherington, an intensive flying paramedic who joined Dias at the press conference, says he is concerned about the emotional impact the pandemic is having on Ornge’s workers.
He says that the mental health problems and post-traumatic stress that “are about to emerge in this final wave of the pandemic are real”.
Union members voted whether or not to strike on Friday. If they decide to attack, they will first have to warn.
Dias says Ornge’s paramedics understand their responsibility during the COVID-19 crisis, adding that going on strike is “the last thing anyone wants to do in the world”.
A spokesman for the medical transport service said he believed both parties could reach an agreement.
Spokesmen for the provincial government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.