City offers voluntary arbitration to union



“It is clear that Calgary paramedics are speaking with one voice — wage fairness is a priority.”

City paramedics are ready to pull the plug on emergency services, voting nearly unanimously in favour of striking over their protracted contract dispute with the city.

Local EMS staff have voted 99 per cent in favour of job action, union boss Bruce Robb said yesterday, adding CUPE union members will meet today to discuss how and when they will serve strike notice.

While 358 of 440 eligible voters cast ballots with only four members opposing job action, the union must give the city 72 hours notice before taking any job action, but Robb said members are overworked, taking on long overtime hours and underpaid in comparison to other city employees.

“It is clear that Calgary paramedics are speaking with one voice — wage fairness is a priority. Our members are solidly behind the wage proposals the union is seeking at the bargaining table,” said Robb.

The city, however, offered voluntary arbitration to the union yesterday, said spokeswoman Vickie Megrath.

If agreed to, the process would allow, under the Alberta Labour Relations Code, a third party to meet with both sides to resolve the outstanding issues.

Those resolutions would form the basis of the next contract and would be binding on both parties.

If the union agrees to this arbitration process, no job action would be allowed.

According to the city, the union is asking for a 30 per cent wage increase over three years and the city is offering a 12 per cent increase plus shift differential and a supplemental pension plan.

But Robb says the union is asking for an 18 per cent increase in wages.

The city maintains that, including premiums, most Calgary paramedics make an average of $75,000 a year — a fair wage.

The province has said it will intervene if paramedics issue strike notice by forcing mediation through a disputes resolution board or public emergency tribunal.

“If they exercise that, then what they’re saying is they’re not prepared to let the citizens be at risk by not having us at work,” says Robb. “We’ve been through mediation before.”

A city contingency plan includes the use of managers trained in first aid to replace striking paramedics.

Negotiations between the city and the union broke off in June.