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New EMS contract out for ratification by rank-and-file union members

Thursday, September 12, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Under a contract that union members will be considering over the next two weeks, sworn employees of the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical System would see a 1 percent raise for FY2014 and FY 2015, and a 2 percent raise in FY2016.


Union members began the process of learning about the proposal yesterday. Sessions to hear about the contract and ask questions will continue through Sept. 20. In an email to members, union chief Tony Marquardt said he expects the ratification vote to take place the week of Sept. 23. The existing contract expires at the end of the month.


In Fact Daily obtained a copy of the contract Wednesday evening, and confirmed with a knowledgeable source that it is the final version that is being presented to union members.


Public Safety Commissioner Mike Levy estimates that the pay increases in the tentative contract would cost the city an extra $3.75 million for each of the first two years, or a total of $15 million over the life of the contract. He said the money would be worth it if it helps EMS attract and retain good paramedics.


Levy added that that EMS’ current staff shortage has become critical, and that in one recent weekend, at least 73 paramedic/EMT slots needed to be filled with personnel working over-time.


In addition to pay issues, EMS employees would also be subject to random drug testing, in which 50 percent of all personnel would be randomly tested during a single year. The department would also routinely test personnel involved in a vehicle accident or an on-the-job injury. The contract spells out specific steps to be taken if an EMS employee tests positive for a banned substance.


According to an analysis by the union, employees will have some stronger protections in cases of disciplinary review.


Also under the contract, the Association president would essentially operate as an executive, working on Association Business Leave for most of the year. The president would be required to complete field work and continuing education and maintain an active licensed and credentialed status, but would otherwise spend his time on union duties. Other union officials would also be able to use Business Leave when performing union duties. That time off would be covered by other EMS personnel working on overtime.


The contract will also require EMS management to notify personnel at least 28 days ahead of time when they make a “significant schedule change” (in either days worked or scheduled time off) in order to provide coverage of special events, such as South by Southwest, the Texas Relays or the Formula 1 race.


Also worthy of note is that the contract appears to leave room for consolidation of EMS and the Austin Fire Department. “If the city proposes to merge the Austin Fire Department with the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Department during the life of this Agreement, the parties agree that the Association will be provided advance notice of such merger. Prior to the merger, the parties shall meet and confer on issues applicable to and directly resulting from the proposed merger,” it reads.


The city has been unable to reach an agreement with the firefighters union.


The City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission recently failed to recommend the A/TCEMS budget for FY2014. Commissioner Levy told In Fact Daily via email that he and his colleagues acted “because of significant questions as to its justification by A/TCEMS management, and that no business case was made for proposed increases.”


Levy also told In Fact Daily that “the Commission would recommend to the Council that it instruct the manager to begin as soon as possible the examination of consolidating A/TCEMS with AFD so that AFD would assume management responsibility of A/TCEMS to improve the management of A/TCEMS and yield what is believed to be a several million dollar cost savings in areas such as the removal of layers in the A/TCEMS management bureaucracy.” 

Despite the contract going out for ratification this week, City Council has not yet approved it. Asked why Council had not voted on the contract this week during one of the budget sessions, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said, “Because it wasn’t posted (for action), it was only posted for discussion just for executive session. The membership has to vote on it and we have to vote on it on the 26th.” The next City Council meeting will be Sept. 26.

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