As EMS professionals, we’re the first to show up when the unthinkable happens. Like doctors, we deliver lifesaving medical treatment; like firefighters, we rush headlong into disaster; like police officers, we calm potentially dangerous situations. Our communities depend on our bravery, skill and clear thinking. All too often, however, our sacrifices are taken for granted.
Last week, during EMS Week, which runs May 20 through May 26, we were recognized for the risks we take to save the lives of others.
As EMS Workers United/AFSCME, we’re making our voices heard and building the power to strengthen our profession and better serve our communities. Our unified voice has national leaders listening.
Listen to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) thank the EMS professionals of AFSCME Local 2960. Hear Rep. Gene Green (TX) share his appreciation for the work of EMS professionals after Hurricane Harvey. Watch Rep. Mark Takano (CA) praise United EMS Workers – AFSCME Local 4911 for their dedication to improving care and safety in our communities.
We also took the opportunity to educate thousands of non-union EMS professionals that having a strong union of over 25,000 members yields real results. This past year, we’ve had notable wins in AFSCME Local 2960/EMS Workers United in Maricopa County, Arizona; Local 4911 in New England; UEMSW (AFSCME Local 4911) in Northern California and more.
As we continue to grow and strengthen our industry, we will be able to further improve what we do best: saving lives and serving our communities with honor and distinction.
EMS professionals are the first to show up when the unthinkable happens. Like doctors, they deliver lifesaving medical treatment; like firefighters, they rush headlong into disaster; like police officers, they defuse potentially dangerous situations.
Our communities depend on their bravery, skill and clear thinking. All too often, however, their sacrifices are taken for granted.
The 156 members of AFSCME Local 2960/EMS United in Maricopa County, Arizona, signed a 4-year agreement with American Medical Response (AMR), winning a 14 percent wage increase, lower costs for health care and a voice on service quality.
The contract, Local 2960’s first with the company, was ratified unanimously by the membership in late February.
“There isn’t one member who is not absolutely excited about the future ahead,” said Brian Weinberg, a Tolleson-based paramedic who joined AMR/Maricopa from its inception.
Lisa La Russo remembers watching the TV series “Emergency!” when she was 5.
The 1970s show featured two specially-trained firefighters/paramedics in Los Angeles County who went around saving lives. It wasn’t children’s entertainment but it spoke to La Russo.
“I felt really excited about what they did,” she recalls. “I wanted to be like them.”
Now a paramedic with American Medical Response in Riverside County, California, and a member of AFSCME Local 4911, La Russo has a rightful claim to be living her childhood dream. She became a paramedic by age 20 and has been saving lives for nearly 30 years, just like her two fictional heroes.
- 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.
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.