N.L. makes contingency plans as more than 100 ambulance workers begin work-to-rule campaign

Hubert Dawe is the business agent for Teamsters Local 855, the union that represents the paramedics and first responders at the heart of the strike. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Hubert Dawe is the business agent for Teamsters Local 855, the union that represents the paramedics and first responders at the heart of the strike. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)

The provincial government says it will make sure people in rural Newfoundland have access to emergency ambulance services, amid a labour dispute between a private ambulance operator and its workers.

More than 100 employees with seven private ambulance companies owned by Bob Fewer have begun a work-to-rule campaign, in which they perform only their core functions while at work.

The action began Wednesday morning, and the union that represents the workers said it's the first step in their strike plan.

The province said people will continue to have ambulance service in the event of any strike action.

"Regional health authorities will work with adjacent private ambulance services, will bring on additional staff to support emergency response and routine transfer services, and will also activate additional RHA ambulances and staff to ensure emergency response in both regions," wrote Debbie Marnell, a provincial government communications director, in a statement to CBC News.

"If ambulance services are required, residents of the region are directed to call 911. N.L. 911 has been made aware of the potential change in service and is ready to redirect calls to the appropriate provider," reads the statement.

The statement says the redirection will continue until the parties reach a new collective agreement.

Back to the table

Hubert Dawe Teamsters Local 855's leadership team says the hope is the work-to-rule action will spur Fewer to get back to the bargaining table.

"This employer has unloaded a lot of what we would probably consider management responsibilities onto the workers," Dawe said Wednesday.

"And our workers were fine, I mean it helped with the day, the time in between calls and whatever else. But the employer became dependent on members doing that, and we figure that's a good spot for us to start, because we think the employer has lost focus and doesn't really have any idea what his employees are doing to make his business successful."

CBC News has requested an interview with Fewer.

The government said it spends a combined $7.7 million on the seven ambulance services each year, not including things like mileage and patient fees, "which vary each year based on service levels."

Among the key issues for the first responders are wages and the lack of a pension plan. Dawe said the members could make better wages and have a greater quality of life working in a fast-food restaurant.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

The general public won't be affected by the first phase of the strike plan, Dawe said, but added members "will escalate their efforts if the employer does not engage in meaningful negotiations."

The strike team will meet at the end of the week, he said, and if they don't feel the work-to-rule campaign is working they'll develop a second phase.

The striking group includes paramedics, emergency medical responders and dispatchers employed by private ambulance services from Fogo Island on Newfoundland's northeast coast to Trepassey on the southern shore.

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