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Paramedics, EMTs go on strike

• Ambulance company to bring in assistance from other agencies.

Posted: April 29, 2008 2:53 a.m.
Updated: June 30, 2008 5:01 a.m.
 
With labor negotiations at a standstill, more than 60 Santa Clarita Valley paramedics and emergency medical technicians were among those who rejected American Medical Response's most recent offer and carried through with a planned strike Monday morning.

Corporate officials say they will keep the service going with assistance from other ambulance firms and hope to see a quick end to the strike.

Employees had moved up the strike date from May 2 to April 28 after claiming negativity on the part of management.

Members of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics Locals 187 and 77 formally began picketing on Monday morning in Lancaster and Irwindale, and paramedics and EMTs in the Santa Clarita Valley have joined the strike. Approximately 300 employees are on strike nationwide, with more than 60 pickets in Irwindale, and approximately 30 in Lancaster. EMT employees from the Santa Clarita Valley are connected to the Lancaster location.

"On a national level, we have 300 members on strike," said Casey Balch, national representative with IAEP who was on the picket line in Irwindale. "We received an offer from AMR but voted it down and the union has yet to receive any offer that is acceptable."

According to IAEP National Director Matthew Levy, Monday's strike is in response to disputes over wages, benefits and labor practices.

"Management refuses to offer these skilled professionals a fair contract with the wages that they deserve," Levy said. "We stand behind our members during this difficult time, and are working toward an end that benefits everyone involved."

The union also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against AMR, according to Levy.

In light of Monday's strike, AMR will rely on its contingency plan of bringing in assistance from other ambulance agencies and using outside replacements.

Jason Sorrick, a spokesman for AMR, said that the company still had plans in place to have staff provide uninterrupted service during the strike, and was hopeful for a quick resolution to the matter.

He said that the last offer from management provided for a wage increase of 20 percent and 75 percent coverage of health benefits. This final contract offer by management was on the table until the union's Friday deadline; however, it was rejected.

According to Sarah Angel, an EMT who was on the picket line in Irwindale on Monday morning, the primary concern among strikers is medical benefits.

Specifically, Angel said the language in the last offer provided by AMR concerning medical coverage was vague and ambiguous, leaving employees unprotected from increased costs without additional benefits.

"It doesn't matter how much of a wage increase they give us, it just gets offset by lack of protection in medical payments," she said. "We just want to be protected from increases in medical payments."

Angel added that the union asked for a three-year contract with salary increases of 9 percent in the first year, and 7 percent increases in each of the next two years.

AMR offered a four-year contract with 5 percent increases each year. Angel said that offer would be acceptable if the issue with protection of medical benefits was also included in the offer.

Levy and other union officials were just as hopeful for a quick resolution.

"We are optimistic this strike will end soon," he said. "We will continue to attempt to work with management to resolve our issues so that our members can get back on the job."

AMR is contracted with the county to provide service in the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Gabriel valleys. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, whose district includes the affected areas, is monitoring the situation.

"The Department of Health is working with AMR to ensure that 911-linked ambulances will continue service uninterrupted," said Tony Bell, spokesman for Antonovich's office. "Our office has instructed the department to monitor the situation and ensure public safety."

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