Am­bu­lance em­ploy­ees seek union­iza­tion

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY JULIO MO­RALES Staff Writer

EL CENTRO — Amer­i­can Med­i­cal Re­sponse am­bu­lance paramedics and EMTs on Fri­day pe­ti­tioned the com­pany to be rec­og­nized as a union in or­der to ne­go­ti­ate bet­ter pay and work­ing con­di­tions.

The pe­ti­tion was prompted by the em­ploy­ees’ con­cerns with their re­port­edly de­mand­ing work sched­ules, is­sues with em­ployee re­ten­tion and re­cruit­ment, and im­pacted re­sponse times.

The pe­ti­tion asks AMR to re­spond to the em­ploy­ees’ re­quest by Wednes­day.

“We’re hop­ing that AMR ac­cepts our union, and we can sit down to col­lec­tively bar­gain with them and work this out,” said Edgar Cor­dova, who has been em­ployed lo­cally as a para­medic

for the past seven years.

Should AMR, whose head­quar­ters is based in Green­wood Vil­lage, Colo., fail to vol­un­tar­ily ac­cept the em­ploy­ees’ re­quest to be rec­og­nized as mem­bers of the United EMT Work­ers union, the em­ploy­ees would then have to for­mally vote on whether to join the union.

There are cur­rently more than 60 in­di­vid­u­als work­ing as paramedics and EMTs for AMR in the Val­ley, Cor­dova said. A sim­ple ma­jor­ity vote would union­ize those em­ploy­ees.

Start­ing pay at AMR for paramedics is $13.50 while newly hired EMTs are paid the state’s min­i­mum wage, $12.

Those wages are much less than the $19 of­fered to their coun­ter­parts in Yuma, and much less than what is pro­vided to AMR em­ploy­ees in San Diego, Cor­dova said.

Lo­cal em­ploy­ees are ask­ing for a rea­son­able wage in­crease that in turn should help with re­ten­tion and re­cruit­ment.

Typically, an em­ployee’s work sched­ule re­quires be­ing on duty for 48 hours, fol­lowed by a four-day rest pe­riod. In­stead, it is not un­com­mon for em­ploy­ees to work mul­ti­ple days ex­ceed­ing 48 hours.

In one re­cent in­stance, an em­ployee re­port­edly was on call 24 hours a day for eight straight days, Cor­dova said.

“We just want more peo­ple, and the only way to at­tract more peo­ple is with bet­ter wages,” Cor­dova said.

Sum­mer’s ar­rival has also posed a con­cern for em­ploy­ees. All of the com­pany’s am­bu­lances al­legedly have more than 250,000 miles on them and are fre­quently in a state of dis­re­pair, he said.

While trans­port­ing a pa­tient to San Diego re­cently, Cor­dova said his am­bu­lance be­came in­op­er­a­ble, prompt­ing him to have to call for a re­place­ment ve­hi­cle.

Cor­dova em­pha­sized that he and his co­work­ers en­joy their line of work and serv­ing the med­i­cal needs of the com­mu­nity. The ma­jor­ity of them had pre­vi­ously worked for Gold Cross am­bu­lance ser­vices, which in Fe­bru­ary abruptly an­nounced it was ter­mi­nat­ing its con­tract with the county.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, AMR pro­vides emer­gency med­i­cal re­sponse ser­vices coun­ty­wide ex­cept for in Calex­ico, whose am­bu­lance and para­medic ser­vices are pro­vided by the city’s Fire Depart­ment.

Dur­ing the county’s tran­si­tion from Gold Cross to AMR, Cor­dova and his fel­low em­ploy­ees re­port­edly worked for two weeks with­out pay, he said.

“Every­body that’s here is 100 per­cent ded­i­cated and 100 per­cent pas­sion­ate and wants what is in the best in­ter­est of the com­mu­nity of Im­pe­rial County,” he said.

The em­ploy­ees had pre­sented the union­iza­tion pe­ti­tion to their su­per­vi­sor in the lobby of El Centro Fire Depart­ment sta­tion 3, where his of­fice is lo­cated.

He smiled, shook the hands of a few em­ploy­ees who he hadn’t met be­fore and quickly re­turned to his of­fice. AMR’s lo­cal su­per­vi­sory staff did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

The de­ci­sion to ac­cept the em­ploy­ees’ pe­ti­tion to be rec­og­nized as a union would likely be taken up by the com­pany’s cor­po­rate of­fice, said Ash­ley Mates, United EMS Work­ers Lo­cal 4911 or­ga­nizer.

Mates was on hand Fri­day to pro­vide sup­port and as­sis­tance to the union hope­fuls. The union rep­re­sents about 4,000 EMTs and paramedics statewide.

Fed­eral law makes it il­le­gal to prevent or re­tal­i­ate against em­ploy­ees who at­tempt to or­ga­nize a union, she said.

Union rep­re­sen­ta­tives from out­side the county are ex­pect­ing to pro­vide as­sis­tance to the lo­cal AMR em­ploy­ees, who will take the lead in any an­tic­i­pated elec­tion or fu­ture union busi­ness.

“The im­por­tant part of this is that it’s peo­ple do­ing the work here in Im­pe­rial County hav­ing a say in how the work gets done in Im­pe­rial County,” Mates said. “It’s cre­at­ing a demo­cratic work­place so that the peo­ple who are most af­fected by the work get to have a say in the process.”

Across the state, more and more pri­vate EMS com­pa­nies are be­ing union­ized, re­sult­ing in con­sid­er­able im­prove­ments in work­ing con­di­tions and pa­tient ser­vices, she said. The bulk of them are mem­bers of the United EMS Work­ers union.

If AMR chooses not to ac­cept the em­ploy­ees’ pe­ti­tion to be rec­og­nized as a union, an elec­tion for pos­si­ble union­iza­tion would likely take place ei­ther in late July or mid-Au­gust.

Changes es­tab­lished by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to guidelines gov­ern­ing the elec­tion process have sped up the time it takes for a vote to come be­fore em­ploy­ees, Mates said. Prior to those changes, the process could ex­tend for months or years.

The elec­tion process — which Mates said is an­tic­i­pated since pri­vate EMS com­pa­nies al­most never vol­un­tar­ily ac­cept em­ploy­ees’ pe­ti­tions to be rec­og­nized as a union — will also in­clude a hear­ing in front of the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board.

At the hear­ing, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of both par­ties will be given the op­por­tu­nity to ar­gue why an em­ployee union should or should not be per­mit­ted, Mates said.

“You guys stay strong and stay to­gether,” she told the em­ploy­ees.

In Fe­bru­ary, Gold Cross had an­nounced that it would be back­ing out of its am­bu­lance ser­vice con­tract with the county. That con­tract was sup­posed to be in place un­til Dec. 31, 2022.

The com­pany re­port­edly was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, the county re­ported at the time.

Cur­rently, the county and AMR are op­er­at­ing un­der an ex­ten­sion of a 60-day emer­gency plan that par­ties reached in Fe­bru­ary, said Lin­sey Dale, county pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer.

“The ex­ten­sion is nec­es­sary to al­low time for the County and AMR to bet­ter as­sess the needs of the com­mu­nity to en­sure that ap­pro­pri­ate stan­dards are put into place for fu­ture longterm agree­ments that will re­quire a com­pet­i­tive (re­quest for pro­pos­als) process.,” Dale stated in an email.

Em­ploy­ees of AMR am­bu­lance ser­vices on Fri­day gathered to pe­ti­tion their em­ployer to be rec­og­nized as mem­bers of the United EMS Work­ers union. PHOTO JULIO MO­RALES

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