Paramedics fume as Toronto city council backs labour deal with outside workers

For Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the peaceful end to contract talks with 6,000 unionised outside city workers “is the greatest news in our council’s history’.

But for Toronto paramedics, members of CUPE Local 416, the agreement passed Wednesday by city council and approved by union members two days earlier, borders on betrayal.

Roberta Scott, vice-president of the Ontario Paramedic Association and a 26-year EMT veteran, said paramedics were misinformed as to their status as essential service employees.

“We voted on something that wasn’t accurate. We’d like to challenge the fact the union didn’t give us proper information and give us the ability to really understand what the contract meant for us before we signed it,” she told the Observer yesterday.

Scott said paramedics were “very, very, very angry” with the terms of the contract and felt betrayed by CUPE Local 416 president Mark Ferguson, claiming paramedics have not been granted “true essential service” status, which would have put them on parity with police and fire fighters.

Paramedics will be considered essential service, but a number of concessions – including giving more control to management over already rigorous shift schedules and the introduction of part-time paramedic positions – will be implemented as part of the deal.

Paramedics will also remain a part of CUPE Local 416, which Scott says does not accurately reflect paramedics’ best interests at the bargaining table. Police and fire both have separate unions representing them.

“Part of the problem I see with this is [Ferguson] and the city now has just under 1,000 very, very upset, discontented paramedics very unhappy with what’s happened. People are going to look at this service and say I don’t want to work here any more. I think you’re going to see a lot of paramedics leaving,” she said, adding that trust in the union has eroded.

City Council approved the collective agreement Wednesday, with all attending councillors giving thumbs up to the deal thereby avoiding the nastiness of a strike or lockout, a real threat that hung over the contracts talks for months.

Council’s vote was widely expected after union workers voted to ratify the deal on Monday. The deal will see 6,000 of the city’s outside workers – including garbage collectors, road and park employees, and paramedics – get a six per cent wage increase over four years, but have their “jobs-for-life” security provisions clawed back.

“This is the greatest news in our council’s history,” mayor Ford said after the vote: “this is great news for Toronto tax payers, residents and the city’s employees.”

Ford said that with the agreement, up to $100 million could be saved and will bring labour stability, flexibility and quality service past “many upcoming major events”, including the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) the chair of the city’s employee and labour relations committee, called the union schism a “fight within the family” that would have to be solved within the union.

The city and the union probably wanted more, said councillor and budget chief Mike Del Grande, (Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt), but ultimately the public’s views helped in avoiding a labour strike.

The full text and details of the collective agreement are yet to be made public.

The city remains in discussion with CUPE Local 79, which represents about 23,000 of Toronto’s inside city workers.