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Sault Ste. Marie paramedics calling social services back to the bargaining table

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Paramedics are calling on the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board to return to the bargaining table.

Unifor Local 1359, the union representing paramedics in the northern Ontario city said the board has walked away from direct negotiations while pushing for arbitration, which the union is rejecting.

Paramedics have been without a contract since April of last year.

Negotiations between the union and social services began this past January, but Local 1359 Vice President Mary Casola said talks broke off last month.

"The employer gave the union a pass, the union countered the pass and the conciliator informed the union that the employer had no further comment and they weren't coming back to the table," Casola said.

She said compensation in line with other emergency services is part of the issue, adding paramedics often face dangerous situations while on the job.

"They have been physically assaulted on calls where they've had to call the police for assistance," Casola said.

"A lot of paramedics struggle with PTSD or mental health issues."

The union is considering strike action, she said and has filed for an essential service agreement with the Ministry of Labour to clear the way for job action – even though paramedics are not fully considered an essential service.

"Paramedics want to be heard," Casola said.

"We don't have the tiered response that we should be having with fire and police responding on our calls. And so we want the employer to respect the paramedics and the job that they've done, especially during COVID."

In the event of a strike, she said there would be fewer ambulances on the road and paramedics would only respond to priority calls or those deemed to be urgent or life-threatening.

In a statement released to CTV News, Mike Nadeau, CEO of the Sault Social Services Board, said collective bargaining continues, adding that social services values the important work of paramedics and is committed to reaching an agreement that is fair to employees, municipal levy partners and the community. 

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