The article below appears in The Signal Santa Clarita Valley. It was reported and written by Signal Staff Writer Katherine Geyer.
About 60 paramedics and emergency medical technicians working in the Santa Clarita Valley are preparing to go on strike beginning May 2, a union official said late Monday afternoon.
The union representing the 300 Los Angeles-area American Medical Response employees rejected the company's proposal Monday afternoon and today the union will begin writing up its notice to strike.
The union asked for improved wages and increases in the employer's contribution toward health insurance, said Matthew Levy, national director of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.
AMR had not yet prepared a response to the outcome of the negotiations late Monday afternoon, but AMR spokesman Douglas Moore said earlier Monday, "We are prepared to provide services if they do strike."
Moore could not discuss details about the contract, but said in a statement, "AMR is committed to bargaining in good faith to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable to all parties."
AMR is contracted with Los Angeles County to provide emergency services countywide. The strike would affect employees in the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Gabriel valleys.
Since the contract with the union expired last September, the union has signed multiple extensions as negotiations continued. When the union rejected an offer on April 6, union members voted to authorize a strike.
The contract's language regarding health insurance was Levy's biggest concern on Monday, he said.
Employees hired since 2004 must pay for 35 percent of their health insurance and the union asked that employees pay 20 percent, he said.
"Our members are health care professionals that take care of sick people all the time," Levy said. "With the way AMR is paying them and providing them with health insurance, they themselves can't afford to be sick."
Switching to a self-insured insurance plan, in which AMR would contract with an insurance provider, could mean larger co-payments and deductibles for employees, he said.
The union had also asked for wage increases beginning at 9 percent. Levy said Monday's proposed 5 percent wage increase was "not even close."
He said EMTs who have been working more than a year typically receive $9.50 an hour.
"Starting wages in that division are just substandard and non-livable," he said.
As health care professionals, the employees are required to give a 10-day notice of a strike. The union will instead be giving a 20-day notice.
"We would love not to have to do this because people are so passionate about the work that they do," Levy said. "As a union, while we are committed to tightening up on AMR, we are committed to public safety ... We believe AMR will be able to rely upon other companies in the area."
Although the union will be issuing its intent to strike, Levy said he remains optimistic the two parties will resolve the issue before May 2.
"We're always willing to talk," he said.
Levy said that although the workers plan to picket, it is unlikely they would do so in Santa Clarita because it is a small operation locally. He said the union will be encouraging Santa Clarita members to join the picketing at the larger Antelope Valley or Irwindale offices.
Paramedics are paid less than most CNA’s but perform a job almost on the level of a PA. Why is this so? My personal opinion is that Paramedics as a whole do not present a united front to the commercial EMS industry. In essence, it is easier to work two jobs than to be blacklisted, and thus labeled a troublemaker, for trying to start a union. I have survived in this pitiful industry for 20 years and have seen the goings on when Paramedics have tried to voice their concerns, request basic benefits and comparable pay. And to this day Paramedics in some areas of Alabama only make 10.50 an hour. Is this fair? I know I made a bad career choice but when I leave the field who will replace me? Personally, I don’t care; my family already has a Paramedic living with them. And the last Paramedic class I proctored had only 3 students and all three applied for nursing school. Is it fair that the people who start I.V’s on AIDS patients and are exposed to noise pollution, sleep deprivation and physical pain from lifting the metabolically challenged make less than the people who mop the floors in any given hospital? Hell No! So I say strike Paramedics strike and maybe someone on this side of the Mississippi will grow some balls.