In life’s most frightening moments, emergency medical service practitioners stand between us and tragedy. EMS Week, which kicks off today, is a time to thank them for everything they do. With skill, courage and dedication, EMS workers serve on the front lines of society, providing care in the most perilous conditions – often at great cost to themselves.AFSCME is proud to represent more than 25,000 of these brave women and men, and has been fighting alongside them for the right to organize, for better working conditions in often hostile workplaces and better mental health treatment.
Hidden Heroes, Hidden Costs
In Washington, D.C., EMS workers at a private medical services company – American Medical Response (AMR) – fought to join AFSCME’s District Council 20 to secure better scheduling, fairer wages and more respect from management. This March, 200 workers won their election to join AFSCME.
One of those people is Lindsay Washington. For her, being an EMT “is one of the most challenging and rewarding things that one can do” because of how it benefits others.
“With this job I can help people,” she said with pride.
In Arizona, three major emergency medical services operations, also owned by AMR, have voted to join EMS Workers United-AFSCME Local 2960. Those EMS workers dealt with all-too-familiar challenges: extended, erratic hours, cuts to their health care, ambulances in need of repair, and an industry-wide denial of the personal and professional hardships they face.
Indeed, among the most pressing concerns EMS workers face is stress –coping with non-stop trauma day in and day out. All too often, the mental toll EMS workers struggle with gets ignored or minimized. Having to witness tragic occurrences, yet having few outlets with which to process them, as well as receiving little public appreciation, lead many EMS workers to feel isolated.
In California, AFSCME members like Jason Brollini, a veteran paramedic and president of UEMSW/AFSCME Local 4911, are making progress in getting some of these long-running concerns addressed. The EMS Workers’ Bill of Rights, a piece of legislation making its way through the California State Legislature, would curb some of these problems in that state.
Unified in Service
Despite the obstacles Brollini and other EMS works face, the driving force behind the work remains the same: the people they serve.
“We all get in this to help people,” says Brollini. “We do this to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Brollini’s thoughts mirror almost exactly those of another paramedic serving across the country with the New York City Fire Department, Cindy Stewart of AFSCME Local 2507 (DC 37).
“We love what we do,” says Stewart, a Brooklyn native. “We love the job. We work hard and we love our neighborhoods. We’re here to help out as much as can.”
Sometimes, however, an EMS worker’s role can be misunderstood. One of the biggest misconceptions about what a paramedic does comes when an EMS team arrives and family members expect them to immediately whisk their loved one to a hospital.
“It’s not always a load-and-go situation. We have to assess the patient first,” says Stewart, an 11-year veteran.
Those first moments on a scene are when she and her colleagues bring much their skill and training to bear to decide how best to treat a patient.
Honoring that skill, as well as the sacrifice and the dedication of the brave women and men who steer us away from danger back to safety, is what EMS Week is all about. To learn more about how to thank an EMS worker, click here.
When Lindsay Washington decided to become an emergency medical technician (EMT), she thought only of how she would be able to help others. She never expected having to fight to help EMTs like herself gain dignity and respect on the job – but that’s exactly what happened.
Washington, 26, is one of AFSCME’s newest members. More than that, she helped build a union with AFSCME District Council 20 in Washington, DC. In March, a majority voted ‘yes’ for AFSCME representation, meaning that today, approximately 250 EMTs and paramedics have a voice on the job and a seat at the table with management. They are now looking forward to negotiating their first union contract.
Washington told her story to a national audience today as a member of an economic-policy panel hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP). The panel, part of the progressive think tank’s “2017 Ideas Conference,” was convened as basic American rights (such as collective bargaining) and values (such as respect for workers’ rights) are under attack like never before.
“We decided to organize because we had three main issues – we wanted fair pay, fair scheduling and working equipment,” Washington said during the panel discussion. “We are our patients’ primary providers. Without working equipment, we cannot give them the best care possible.”
Washington goes to work every day to help people in need of her life-saving expertise.
Only, instead of focusing just on her job, she found herself worrying about how to prevent management from playing favorites with employees, how to enforce workplace standards and how to get her private employer, American Medical Response (AMR), to improve the equipment they depend on, like their ambulances.
Washington and her co-workers decided last winter to form a union with AFSCME to improve the services they provide. Management resisted.
“They sent letters to everyone’s houses” telling them why they shouldn’t join a union, she recalled in a recent interview. They even distributed wristbands that urged them not to join a union so they wouldn’t have to pay dues.
But those tactics didn’t work. Creating their own Facebook page, the workers explained the reasons why a union made sense. In March, they voted overwhelmingly to form their union, and Washington wants to become a steward so she can continue advocating for her co-workers.
A bill making its way through the California State Legislature would make long-overdue improvements to the state’s emergency medical services (EMS) system.
AB263 – dubbed the EMS Workers’ Bill of Rights – would resolve issues that affect emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics and others and the services they provide to their communities.
Jason Brollini, a 24-year EMS worker and president of UEMSW/AFSCME Local 4911 knows the perils of the industry first hand. During a recent press conference, he shared his gratitude for AB263.
“It’s unfortunate that the stresses that we have remained constant over 24 years,” Brollini said. “In those 24 years, I’ve had four of my colleagues and members commit suicide … (due) to PTSD and the critical incidents that they’ve encountered on the job.”
AB263 would provide adequate rest and meal breaks, protections against violence in the workplace, and access to mental health care for EMS workers. To read the text of the bill, go here.
“As a legislator and EMT for over 30 years, I am obligated and proud to stand up and speak out for thousands of hardworking individuals who are integral to our healthcare system,” he said. “The EMS Workers’ Bill of Rights will make meaningful changes to the emergency service worker industry.”
Despite increasingly low wages and poor working conditions, EMTs and paramedics remain the backbone of the EMS system. These professionals deliver vital care to families and communities when life hangs in the balance. Approximately 25,000 EMS professionals nationwide are members of AFSCME.
Nearly 200 emergency medical services (EMS) professionals serving our nation’s capital have won their union election to join AFSCME District Council 20.
With more than 70 percent voting yes late Thursday, they will now have a collective voice at American Medical Response (AMR), a private medical services provider, to improve professional standards and patient care for D.C. residents.
“We want to make sure we have adequate rest between shifts so that public safety is not compromised,” said Emergency Medical Technician Daniel Hoock. “It’s about making sure our patients are getting the best care possible.”
Workers at the company united to address ongoing issues that affect patient care, such as scheduling, fatigue, training, equipment and employee turnover.
Mosiah Grayton, another emergency medical technician, began her career in EMS because she is passionate about helping people. She decided to unite with her coworkers because she wants to be able to continue her education.
“I can’t further my education because of scheduling,” said Grayton. “We never know when we’ll get off work. I can’t afford to go down to part time because I’ll lose my benefits.”
The union will submit a request for bargaining to AMR’s management team so the two sides can immediately begin the process of collective bargaining and improving standards at the company.
Approximately 25,000 EMS professionals nationwide are members of AFSCME, including AMR employees across the country and the uniformed emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and fire inspectors of the Fire Department of New York.
Tired of not having a voice in their workplace, emergency medical professionals at Life Line Ambulance in Prescott, Arizona, decided to kick off the year by uniting with the more than 25,000 paramedics and emergency medical technicians represented by AFSCME.
Paramedic Jennifer Leibin and her coworkers were halfway through a 24-hour shift when they heard the news one recent evening.
“We were nervous and then so excited that we clinked our water glasses together and took a selfie,” said Leibin. “Finally someone has our backs.”
In a so-called right-to-work state, and at a private employer that’s routinely hostile toward unions – Life Line is owned by a company called American Medical Response (AMR) – organizing was no easy feat.
But now, with the victory in Prescott, three major emergency medical services operations in Arizona – all owned by AMR – have voted to join EMS Workers United-AFSCME Local 2960. Leibin was among 152 emergency service workers in Prescott who now call themselves proud AFSCME members.
“For me it came down to getting the support that we need,” said Leibin. “Police officers and firefighters are united and therefore recognized for their work, but not EMS. The public has no concept of what we do in the field. We feel like they want us to be seen and not heard.”
Like thousands of other employees of private for-profit ambulance companies around the nation, Leibin and her coworkers are faced with extended hours, cuts to their health care, ambulances in need of repair, and an industry-wide denial of the personal and professional hardships they face.
They had to come together. Now, as AFSCME members, they’re preparing to negotiate a contract with the company and are fighting to achieve quality patient care, fairness for their families, and higher standards in their profession.
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and dispatchers have filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against American Medical Response, and are calling on the company to stop misleading the public when it comes to the employee retention problem.
“We spend a lot of time training new employees only to see them vanish a year later. It’s become such a problem that now we have new EMTs training new EMTs,” said Andrew Kahananui, an EMT and field training officer who has seen firsthand the impact of high turnover in his 12 years with AMR. “Daily late calls and fatigue cause a lot of burnout.”
As industry reports indicate, this can be problematic for workers and their patients.
High turnover can hurt patient care, so workers are talking with Independence officials about the need to provide basic oversight of the city’s private provider of emergency medical services.
“Experience matters. We know that having experienced professionals respond to your emergency can knock off as much as four minutes from the time you call 911 to the time you arrive at the hospital,” said Robert Mills, a part-time EMT and National Guardsman. “That can mean the difference between life and death. I don’t know why the city is not concerned that we have a 23 percent turnover rate at AMR.”
Emergency Medical Service professionals say that transparency and oversight would be a big step forward. They are urging the city’s health director to exercise his authority outlined in the city code and require AMR to measure and report employee satisfaction and retention.
NEW YORK – A two-year battle for legislation that would help stop assaults on Emergency Medical Services Paramedics and Technicians (EMS/EMT) has ended in a victory for the dedicated first responders throughout the state of New York. read more
Independence, MO — It’s clearly a problem when 20 percent of a company’s workforce vanishes within 16 months, especially when that company is a local unit of the nation’s largest private provider of emergency services. Professionals at the Independence/ S. Platte County operations of American Medical Response (AMR) are leaving at an alarming rate of twice the national average for paid EMS providers, and AFSCME members there want to shine some light on the problem. read more
Early on the morning of July 20, as most New Yorkers were preparing to go to work, emergency medical technician and DC 37 Local 2507 member Niall O’Shaughnessy was already on the job – literally up to his neck in the treacherous, choppy waters of the Hudson River, trying to save a young woman who had thrown herself in only minutes before. read more
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