The Region of Waterloo’s mismanagement is harming the quality of paramedic services and putting the community and its workforce at risk, according to paramedics represented by CUPE 5191.
Luke McCann, an active paramedic and president of CUPE 5191, said emergency calls had increased during the pandemic without a corresponding increase in staffing.
“In addition to COVID-related work in relation to testing and vaccination, we are responding to all forms of crises in the community, from increases in violent incidents, the continuation of the opioid crisis, to a broad range mental health-related calls for service,” McCann said. “But we are not being provided the resources we need to maintain the quality of our service or our own wellbeing.”
CUPE 5191 is currently in negotiations with the Region of Waterloo after their last contract expired in March 2020. The Local represents approximately 300 paramedics and logistics workers.
In March 2021, the Local received a strike mandate of 97 per cent from a membership working through the pandemic without a contract. The employer has refused to address concerns about heavy workloads, understaffing and retention, lack of sick time, increased disciplinary measures, and work-life balance.
The Region has historically prided itself on running a “lean service” – at the expense of its workers as indicated by a 73 per cent increase in WSIB claims between 2016 and 2018.
Over 20 paramedics have quit the workforce since last year, contributing to a staffing and retention crisis rooted in poor working conditions and lower compensation compared to neighbouring municipalities.
“The Region needs to make these jobs attractive but you can’t do that when workers are getting injured and feeling burnt out,” McCann said.
“To take on extra work, to face increasing discipline, to sacrifice time with your family, to be told we are valued employees, and then to essentially have our employer tell us that we don’t deserve decent working conditions and a fair contract is insulting.”
The Region wants to eliminate “job share” positions, which allows two members to work the equivalent of one full-time position.
“That will have a serious impact not only on our paramedics with young children but other members who want to achieve a better work-life balance. With an increased workload, higher levels of stress leading to mental health challenges, and several members having to home school during the pandemic, it is more important than ever to maintain the job share positions,” said Alex Manson, executive officer of CUPE 5191.
The local leadership pointed out that improved work-life balance and flexibility was a key goal most staff had identified in the most recent employee survey conducted by the Region.
“What’s the point of these surveys if they are just going to turn around and do the exact opposite of what the staff want?” McCann said. “The employer is looking to eliminate our job share positions, however many other employees within different departments in the Region continue to maintain job share positions. It makes no sense to punish our members this way.”
The union’s members are concerned about their own wellbeing while also questioning management’s sense of responsibility to the community.
“As residents of the Region of Waterloo, we all have a stake in our ambulance service. We don’t just provide service to strangers, we are responding to calls as friends within our neighbourhoods and communities,” McCann said.
“It worries me when the employer leaves us short-staffed and overworked. It impacts quality. We know we could be capable of so much more if we had the resources we need to come to work well-rested and satisfied with our working conditions.”