- Many of the hospital workers of Harris County Local 1550 have been unable to leave work to check on their own homes.
- An AFSCME member, Cory Marshall, used a dump truck to rescue a pregnant woman who later gave birth at a hospital.
- Houston municipal workers and road crews – all members of HOPE (Houston Organization of Public Employees) – are working with firefighters and police officers to rescue those trapped by the floods and deliver clean water.
- AFSCME emergency medical services (EMS) members from California came to Texas to help; their first action was to evacuate a hospital in Victoria, Texas.
Public service workers like these deserve our respect and admiration for putting the safety of their communities ahead of their own. But they, too, get hurt by natural disasters. There are about 8,500 AFSCME sisters and brothers living in the areas ravaged by Harvey. To help affected AFSCME members, please donate through the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund.
(Contributing: Justin Lee)
After a year of tough negotiations with the private company, members ratified an agreement that will begin to bring wages up to par with other providers of emergency medical services (EMS) in the region.
Armed with comparison charts and employee surveys, Paramedic and Local 4911 New England Director Frank Cushing Jr. and his coworkers began approaching AMR managers last year about the problem of employee retention.
“Not only have we lost good employees, we’ve struggled to fill positions,” he said. “At one time, we lost three paramedics to a hospital system. We’ve been overstretched and overworked. We had to act.”
Their persistence paid off. Members negotiated a memorandum of understanding that calls for AMR to invest more than half a million dollars in the workforce while helping to attract and retain experienced paramedics and EMTs.
Studies like this one show that high employee turnover and fatigue can have a significant impact on patient care. These issues are not unique to AMR’s New England operation. AFSCME members in Washington, D.C., and Arizona are negotiating with AMR and are committed to raising patient care and professional standards at their workplaces.
– Justin Lee| August 10, 2017
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.
– Pete Levine | May 22, 2017
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.
– Clyde Weiss | May 16, 2017
A bill making its way through the California State Legislature would make long-overdue improvements to the state’s emergency medical services (EMS) system.
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.
Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, introduced AB263 in February.
“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.”
The measure has received overwhelming support from members of the Assembly Committee on Health and the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment, the University of California, Berkeley, Labor Center, and many California EMS workers. The Labor and Employment committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on AB263 on April 19th.
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.
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. read more
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. – Splash Medics has provided life-saving water safety tips to more than 2,000 children since AFSCME Local 4911 members founded the nonprofit in 2015.
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.
Company rosters indicate the turnover rate was 23 percent in 2015, but the company spokesman tells a different story when questioned by the media. Workers want to know why the city health director has not stepped in.
“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.
View local media coverage
– Justin Lee | March 29, 2016