SDG ambulance numbers slashed as paramedics begin strike

Paramedics on scene at a South Dundas accident in 2017. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

CORNWALL & SDG — Many fewer ambulances are on the road now that the paramedics serving Cornwall and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry have begun legal strike action.

The paramedics are among 230 Cornwall city workers that went on strike this morning. The city, mandated provider to SDG of ambulance and a number of other services, failed to negotiate an agreement with involved union locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

As a result of the impasse, fewer ambulances and paramedics will be maintaining emergency service coverage in both Cornwall and the surrounding United Counties.

The city concedes that only three ambulances will respond to urgent and emergent calls during the day, down from the regular complement of nine. The nighttime roster  drops from the usual six to just two union-staffed ambulances for the whole of SDG and the city. The cuts are imposed as per a previously negotiated “essential services agreement,” mandated by the province, that partly limits paramedics’ right to strike.

Echoing a warning issued by the United Counties, the city says that residents should only call 911 for medical in the event of “severe emergencies such as shortness of breath, chest pain, major traumatic injury or unconsciousness.”  It advises taking a personal vehicle or taxi to the hospital, calling Telehealth Ontario toll-free at 1-866-797-0000, visiting a pharmacy, clinic, or doctor as alternatives to calling an ambulance.

“We have reached out to our partners, including area hospitals, fire services, police and taxi companies to ask for their assistance in responding to non-emergency calls during the strike,” said Bill Lister, Chief of Cornwall SDG Paramedic Services. “We hope this will allow us to focus on emergency calls only.”

During the strike action, no routine ambulance transfers will take place. But in the event of a “major emergency,” striking paramedics will still be called onto the job, the city assures.

“It certainly didn’t need to come to this,” said Amanda Palieps, president of paramedic local CUPE 5734, “but the City walked away from us on Tuesday afternoon and we didn’t see them or hear from them at all on Wednesday. We needed to be talking to hammer out a deal. It takes dialogue to bargain. Their absence tells us they were not serious about avoiding a strike.”

Main issues in the dispute include concessions sought by the City, and wages remain outstanding as well, according to the union.

Inside workers, represented by CUPE local 3251, have a strike deadline of May 23. Should they join their co-workers on the picket line next week, an additional 150 workers will be off the job.

“The city made what they called a ‘final offer’ on Tuesday,” said Alison Denis, CUPE National Representative. “Whatever they choose to call it, it contained all the same problems that yielded a 93 percent strike vote two months ago. Our members gave us a resounding direction with that strike vote. We’re very willing to try and find a resolution that works for both parties. But that would require the City to be here, actually bargaining. That is how this strike will get resolved.”

The paramedics have been without a contract since 2016.

Members of CUPE Local 1792, who work at long-term care home Glen Stor Dun Lodge, have also reached an impasse in their negotiations, but as they do not have the right to strike, their issues will be resolved by interest arbitration, according to the union.



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