Most people would consider services like policing, fire rescue and ambulance essential. Without them, our basic safety becomes compromised. But what about the people behind the scenes? The ones picking up the phones when you dial 911? How essential are they?
That’s the question at the core of a dispute between the City of Edmonton and the Civic Service Union 52 (CSU 52) over whether 911 workers should be exempt from any upcoming work stoppages.
Under Alberta’s Labour Relations Code, services deemed essential to public safety or health are legislatively unable to strike. Instead, they’re guaranteed mandatory mediation and arbitration in labour disputes. But dispatchers in Edmonton aren’t legally considered essential, meaning a significant chunk — roughly 94 per cent, according to EPS — of the people working answering emergency calls could be on the picket line.
The question that raises is ‘what happens to 911 services if there’s a strike?’ The answer isn’t entirely clear.
Urban Affairs reached out to both the City of Edmonton and Edmonton Police Service (EPS) to ask how losing staff to a work stoppage might affect operations. Neither gave us a clear answer. Instead, they offered a statement saying the City and EPS have contingency plans in place to ensure “critical operations continue” (note they didn’t say essential). However, they didn’t provide any detail as to what those contingency plans might be.
There are ways to avoid disruption entirely, however. The City and CSU 52 could jointly submit an application to the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) to have emergency communications members designated as essential, or the CSU 52 could voluntarily exempt them from any upcoming strike action.