Paramedics vote 97 percent in favour of strike action
Mental health supports, improved benefits and better-defined availability for part-timers are the top priorities for Chatham-Kent Medavie Health Care EMS paramedics, who voted 97 percent in favour of strike action last week.
The 125 employees, represented by Service Employees International Union Healthcare, have worked without a contract since their four-year deal expired on December 31, 2022.
The SEIU announced on April 25 that after seven days of negotiations, it could not reach a collective agreement with Medavie, a private company based out of Nova Scotia that has provided service in Chatham-Kent since taking over from the Sun Parlour Ambulance Service in 2012.
Laurie Chapman, SEIU Healthcare manager of hospitals, said getting long-term disability premiums provided by Medavie is one of the top priorities.
“Mental health supports are one of the big things with first responders and our paramedics,” Chapman said.“One of the things they face are issues related to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and mental health issues, and oftentimes their benefits are affected,” Chapman said. “With this group, which is very unique for the paramedic service, the members pay their own premiums for those benefits, so if they have to off work for a long-term basis, they pay roughly $6,000 per paramedic per year.”
“We’re saying it’s work-related. It’s part of what should be covered by the employer,” she said.
Chapman said another main priority is part-timers required by Medavie to make themselves more available to be on call when they’re off duty.
She said many part-timers have to work at neighbouring ambulance services to sustain a living since they do not get guaranteed hours working in Chatham-Kent.
“Their work-life balance does not exist, and the employer is pressing for increased availability, which doesn’t mean they would work. It means they must make themselves available to work at Medavie,” Chapman said. “While that’s great for the employer, it means they can’t give that availability to other places where they might actually work.”
Wages are also a key opponent; although increases were included in the last contract, they have not kept up with the inflation rate and rising living costs.
Chapman said the union had had preliminary conversations with Medavie since the vote strike was taken on April 24, but the SEUI has not set a strike deadline.
“That will be dependant on the response we get back from the employer,” she said.
If there is a strike, emergency service will still be covered by Medavie paramedics, as they are considered ‘essential workers’ by the Ambulance Act.
However, they will not provide patient transfer service, participate in community paramedicine or conduct maintenance duties inside the main Medavie headquarters and stations around Chatham-Kent.
Michael Bennett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News