Skip to content

Sault paramedics eye strike option after employer walks away from bargaining

Union leaders say wages and safety concerns are chief among the issues paramedics are seeking to be improved through contract negotiations

The union representing about 100 paramedics in Sault Ste. Marie is beginning the process that may put it in a position to strike after leaders say their employer has walked away from the bargaining table.

A rally held Tuesday outside the recently opened $16 million Social Services office building on Albert Street was intended to raise public awareness about the current state of the paramedic contract negotiations and to give a sneak peek as to what an eventual strike might look like if the issue can't be resolved at the bargaining table.

About 60 people, many of whom are paramedic UNIFOR members, held signs and flags outside of the offices at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

Sault Ste. Marie Paramedic Services is funded by municipal taxes through the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB), which operates under the name Social Services.

Mary Casola, the vice-president of UNIFOR Local 1359, said the union has been attempting to negotiate for a fair contract, but claims the DSSAB walked away from the table.

"We asked them to revisit the table again to talk about an essential service agreement (ESA) that we need in place to follow so that we can strike, as the paramedics are non-essential," said Casola. "Therefore we have the right to strike if we get to that impasse."

In an emailed response, DSSAB CEO Mike Nadeau said his organization has met with UNIFOR Local 1359 over 11 days, three of which included a conciliator. Nadeau said the DSSAB is committed to reaching an agreement that is fair and responsible for all stakeholders and it has offered to proceed to binding arbitration in an attempt to reach a resolution.

"[We value] the important work of paramedics and is committed to reaching an agreement that is fair to its employees without necessitating further demand on the municipal levy and is fiscally responsible to the community," Nadeau said in the email. 

Casola said both sides must be in agreement to go to arbitration, but because the DSSAB will not sit down and discuss it with the union, it is forced to file with the Ministry of Labour to begin the ESA process, which may eventually lead to a strike.

Hannah Fairburn is the local's paramedic unit chair. She said Local 1359 is fighting for fair wages to close the gap between paramedics and other emergency service workers after its previous contract expired last year.

"Our calls increase every year and we get busier and busier and it doesn't seem that we are compensated really fairly at all," said Fairburn. "We work alongside other emergency services that get paid, I would say, a fair wage for what they do and it doesn't seem that anyone really wants to compensate us fairly."

If a strike action was enacted, Fairburn said emergency response would still continue in the community, but non-emergency services provided by paramedics, like the Community Paramedicine program, would be halted.

In 2023, Sault Ste. Marie Paramedic Services responded to 21,520 calls, an increase of 4.85 per cent over the previous year. Despite that increase in calls, the service's response times improved in 2023 and the service met five of its six goal metrics in respect to response times.

In addition to the wage disparity, Fairburn said there are safety concerns as paramedics are increasingly being called to dangerous scenes, sometimes before police arrive.

"We can't refuse calls like that like, we have to respond," Fairburn said. "We're there first and we're all by ourselves and we sometimes have to request help. But by then, you don't know what's gonna happen, right? So the call can really become dangerous very quickly."

What's next?

If you would like to apply to become a Verified reader Verified Commenter, please fill out this form.


Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
Read more