Talks with paramedics’ union local to resume tomorrow morning

The residents of SDG await the outcome of negotiations between CUPE and the City of Cornwall, as the ongoing strike has curtailed available ambulance service in the United Counties. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

CORNWALL – Cornwall City Hall says negotiators will be back at the bargaining table with the union representing paramedics and other striking city employees tomorrow morning.

That follows a formal written request from CUPE, dated today, May 23, asking for a resumption of negotiations.

The request coincided with a rally today outside City Hall in support of the four union locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) whose members have been off the job since May 17.

Talks between the city and the employees — some of whom support a number of services to the entire United Counties of SDG — broke down last week. SDG’s complement of paramedics were among 230 employees that consequently went on strike, seriously curtailing the number of ambulances available for emergency calls.

In a press release issued today, the city emphasizes that it does not bargain through the media. But the municipality goes on to stress that the “current strike was not its decision nor desire” and points a finger of responsibility at CUPE, noting the union “requested the end of the conciliation process that led to the setting of a strike date and refused to share the terms of the City’s fair and reasonable final offer with the employees prior to their decision to commence the current strike.”

The city says it has “always been ready and willing to participate fully in the bargaining process” and has accepted CUPE’s invitation to resume discussions on May 24.  The two sides will sit down at 9 a.m.

“While the City is committed to the bargaining process, there are issues which are fundamental to the City’s operational and financial needs that must be resolved to ensure that any deal reached is fair not just for employees, but for the taxpayers of the City of Cornwall as well,” the release concludes.

CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn brought greetings to the strikers’ rally today. “Workers across Ontario are standing with you as you fight concessions and pursue a fair deal. Ontario municipalities are watching how you are standing together here in Cornwall, and let me tell you, you are a model of solidarity. Cornwall City Council must understand just how tough you are – and they must do the right thing and send their negotiators back to the table to end this.”

CUPE negotiators had questioned the City’s reluctance to return to the bargaining table. “Why would they not be doing everything possible to end this strike?” said Amanda Palieps, president of CUPE Local 5734, representing paramedics. “We are here. We need a reasonable, willing partner to bargain.”

The union says that concessions and wages have been the main factors that caused the strike. CUPE National representative Alison Denis said the city stopped communicating with the union two days before the strike action began last week. “It’s amazing to us that they were not working around the clock with us as the deadline approached,” Denis said.

Update: On a picket line at Winchester’s main corner May 24, striking SDG paramedics and local social services employees (seen in the video below) expressed optimism about the restarted talks with their employer, the City of Cornwall, which resumed that morning. Since last week, the paramedics have been on strike against the City (the provincially mandated provider of ambulance and social services to the United Counties). Social services employees, including the small complement of staff from the Ontario Works (welfare) office in North Dundas, went off the job yesterday. The Ontario Works office at the Community Care building in Winchester has been locked and unable to serve clients since then. Negotiations with the union are handled by the city exclusively, while the United Counties of SDG government awaits the outcome.