12/19/2011 04:55 EST | Updated 02/18/2012 05:12 EST

EMS, city battle over essential designation

The city faced-off with another of its unions on Monday. This time at the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

The OLRB is being asked to rule on whether Toronto can declare Emergency Medical Service workers essential, but not allow them to apply for binding arbitration in their contract negotiations.

Toronto EMS worker Roberta Scott calls the measure "hypocritical."

"It's absolutely unfair," she said. "We're outraged that the city would take a stand like this. We can't believe they would not recognize the value of the work we do."

The key issue is what happens in the event of a lockout or strike by city employees.

Right now 75 per cent of EMS workers must stay on the job. The city wants to increase that to 100 per cent but doesn't want to offer arbitration - usually the trade-off for giving up the right to strike.

Dozens of EMS workers showed up to the OLRB hearing to support their union.

Coun. Paula Fletcher says EMS should be made essential with a fair arbitration system.

"There's either one way or another," said Fletcher. "Either they're essential and you have to treat them that way, or they're not essential and you take your chances in a lockout."

But the deputy mayor Doug Holyday says the city can't afford to treat paramedics the same as police, fire or the TTC

"In the end that would mean a heft salary increase, a huge benefit increase, people retiring at the age of 50, and all things that would be very expensive to the taxpayer and we're not about to let that happen," he said.

The one-day hearing by the OLRB concluded Monday afternoon. Its decision is expected in the new year.