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City, EMS negotiators reach tentative deal

Tuesday, August 21, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Labor negotiators for the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Employee Association and the city of Austin have reached a tentative agreement. Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal today in executive session.

Union President Tony Marquardt said union members have been voting on the contract and the polls will close this morning.

If all goes well, Council will consider ratifying the contract at its meeting on Thursday.

Marquardt and other members of the union have complained vociferously that although other public safety employees in Austin may be paid above market rates, paramedics have been paid below market. That makes it harder for Austin to hire and keep its paramedics, he said.

“We have been working on what we were challenged with, which is not meeting the market for paramedics on a national, regional or local scale,” Marquardt said. “We proposed a median based on the city’s studies and (salaries) around the local area,” using Montgomery County, which is north of Houston, as a comparator to Austin.

It was important that the agreement include an extra wage increase for paramedics in addition to the overall yearly wage increase for all EMS employees, Marquardt said.

“We realized we were so far behind,” that local EMS employees would probably never be among the highest paid in the state, he said. “This is a middle ground for us … and we hope we’ve improved our prospects for our future hires  – for the next four years anyway.”

Currently Austin-Travis County EMS has about 480 employees, he said, with about 70 vacancies. “If you take the advertisement for Williamson County, they hire paramedics at $56,000 a year. You look at Austin’s entry-level wage, and we hire at $38,000.”

In 2017, before negotiations with the unions had even begun, Mayor Steve Adler was one of those pointing out that public safety departments accounted for 68 percent of the General Fund budget. However, even though police and firefighters were making more than the average pay scale, EMS employees did not fall in that category.

And Marquardt pointed out that EMS accounts for only 4.2 percent of General Fund spending.

He noted that during negotiations the city did a compensation analysis for each of the public safety agencies and “EMS was the only one that demonstrated we were below market, which led us to doing an interim agreement. Another compensation analysis showed we were below market for the paramedic profession. … You have to be a paramedic to make our first promotion, and that’s where we are challenged.”

Marquardt said his union and the city’s labor negotiators have agreed to a 2 percent raise for the first year for all EMS employees, followed by 2 percent for both the second and third years and 1 percent in the fourth year of the contract. More importantly, paramedics – as opposed to newly hired EMS employees – will receive a step pay adjustment, which will be “anywhere from a 6 to 15 percent increase, depending on where they are” on the pay scale, he said.

Negotiators for the two sides have been trying to reach agreement for the past 15 months. In March, Council approved a short-term contract essentially extending the contract that expired last year but not providing employees the increased wages they were seeking.

The city’s labor negotiator, Deven Desai, did not return a call seeking comment.

Photo by Andreanna Moya made available through a Creative Commons license.

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