EMS edges closer to strike; Paramedics reject arbitration offer

The city's paramedics are moving ahead with strike preparations after again rejecting an offer to enter into binding arbitration to settle their contract dispute.

And while they won't be specific about when strike notice will be given, only allowing that it will be sometime next week, an information picket is planned for Monday.

"It's just to shed some light on what our issues are, clear up any misconceptions that might be out there," paramedics spokeswoman Rina Campus said.

Without a contract for more than a year, the paramedics have taken a strike vote and rejected overtures from the city to enter into binding arbitration.

EMS staff this week voted 99 per cent in favour of walking off the job. Unlike police and fire, which are considered essential services, paramedics can go on strike.

However, the province has indicated it will step in and halt any strike action, either by putting in place a disputes inquiry board or an emergency resolution tribunal. It can't act until the union issues the required 72-hour notice.

That won't happen until sometime next week, Campus said, adding the union is still working out some details.

"We're trying to get all our logistics for a strike organized," she said.

The Alberta Federation of Labour has also jumped into the debate, asking the province to leave well enough alone and not interfere with the bargaining process.

President Gil McGowan said in a news release the right to strike is the only way workers can gain a fair contract. If the province does halt strike action, the AFL will scrutinize any deal to make sure it takes into account Calgary's labour market conditions and cost-of-living increases, he said.

Campus said the 440 people employed by EMS "just want a fair contract, whether that's by going out on strike or binding arbitration."

She added that although it seems unlikely they will ever hoist a strike sign, paramedics are willing to take that step.

"Ninety-nine per cent of us are willing to walk out of our jobs and not get paid," she said. "People are willing to do whatever means necessary to get the contract we want."

City spokeswoman Vickie Megrath said they were officially notified Friday that the union won't enter into binding arbitration to settle the lone remaining issue -- money.

"We have to see what the union is going to do next," she said. "We'll continue with our contingency plans and continue to be available to continue discussions."

The city has offered paramedics 12 per cent over three years. The paramedics want 18 per cent, plus a retroactive market adjustment they feel is necessary to bring salaries in line with other city employees.

The union says an EMT makes $21.96 an hour to start, with a top wage of $26.70 an hour. The hourly wages for paramedics range from $23.74 to $30.26, while crew chiefs make $30.26 to $33.54.

Calgary paramedics last went on strike in 1991.

Calgary Herald, Page B2, Sat July 21 2007
Byline: Kim Guttormson

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