Ornge workers win arbitration over Bill 124 wage re-opene

Ornge paramedics, members of Unifor Local 2002, won their arbitration over a wage re-opener clause that hinged on Bill 124, Premier Doug Ford’s disastrous anti-worker wage-suppressing legislation.

The paramedics’ last round of collective bargaining happened under the cloud of Bill 124 and the pandemic – when paramedics faced increased personal risk, overwhelming demand, and high stress. Ornge members voted 94% in favour of strike action if they were not made exempt from Bill 124 that capped their wage increases to 1%.

In September 2021, an arbitrator issued a consent award which included a wage re-opener clause to pay an additional 1% annual increase in 2020, 2021 and 2022 should Bill 124 be “repealed, amended, or rendered inoperative” within 5 years from the signing of the contract.

Unifor and other Ontario unions issued a constitutional charter challenge to Bill 124, and in late 2022 the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that Ford’s legislation unduly infringed on workers’ rights – making the bill inoperative. Following this ruling, Ornge members returned to the arbitrator seeking retroactive payments from the employer.

The employer argued the bill was under appeal and therefore they should wait before issuing payment, in case the Ontario government was successful in its appeal. However, in his decision, the arbitrator sided with the workers saying, “Any objective balancing of interests favours the employees who should not have to await the eventual judgement of the courts.”

“These are the victories that fuel us and prove that we must never give up,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National President. “It was shameful that Ontario’s public sector workers were kept from respectable and reasonable wage increases because of unconstitutional legislation. My heartfelt congratulations to the bargaining committee and each and every paramedic at Ornge for fighting back.”

The arbitrator directed the employer to pay the amounts owing to all current and former employees within 30 days of the January 30, 2023 decision.

“Unifor is pleased with the outcome of this award and will be looking for recompense for our Ornge members,” said Tammy Moore, Unifor Local 2002 President. “Ornge prides itself on saving lives, restoring health, creating capacity and preserving dignity; it’s time Unifor members at Ornge be part of the Employer’s mission.”

Read the full decision here.