Members of a union that represents about 7,000 rural paramedics and emergency dispatch, respiratory therapists, lab and diagnostic technologists, and other allied health professionals in Manitoba have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike mandate.
The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, whose membership also includes social workers, pharmacists, physiotherapists and dietitians, among workers in many other professions, says its members voted 99 per cent in favor of adopting a strike mandate.
The union’s bargaining committee called for a strike vote in March, after more than a year of negotiating for a new collective agreement, according to a Friday news release.
The vote in favor of a strike mandate, which happened earlier this week, gives the union the authority to take strike action in the future.
“What happened today is unprecedented in our history,” MAHCP president Jason Linklater told CBC News on Friday, saying the union has never received such strong support from employees for a strike mandate.
Allied health employees have been without a collective agreement for more than five years, which the union’s release called an “unprecedented length” between contracts.
Linklater said being without an agreement creates barriers to staff recruitment and retention.
“Manitoba is not competitive and we are simply losing professionals to either other provinces or different career paths entirely,” he said.
The union says there are growing concerns about significant understaffing and increasing vacancy rates in a number of areas, including rural emergency medical services, diagnostics and mental health.
Strike would be ‘incredibly impactful’
A spokesperson for Shared Health, which is the bargaining representative for provincial health care employers, told CBC the provincial health organization is dedicated to negotiating a new collective agreement for MAHCP employees.
The spokesperson said Shared Health expects a new agreement to include compounding increases for wages, as well as retroactive pay for employees.
An experienced mediator picked by both parties will help in the ongoing bargaining, the spokesperson said.
If enacted, strike action by allied health professionals in Manitoba would be “incredibly impactful” on the province, Linklater said.
But a strike would be the last option, he said, and he believes this week’s vote sends a strong message to the provincial government.
“It’s a very clear message that the government is the funder — they are responsible for health-care delivery in the province, and they need to fund health care to the appropriate levels to make Manitoba competitive.”