For Washington, D.C., Private EMS Workers – a New Contract and a Path Forward

The EMS professionals at American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service in Washington, D.C., recently ratified their first contract after organizing with EMS Workers United/AFSCME District Council 20 last year. They’re now armed with an agreement that puts them on a strong footing for the future as they seek to elevate their profession while serving their community.

Ryan Allen, an EMT, said, “We’re really excited about the contract, and we’re so happy to put pen to paper.”

The agreement tackles many problems EMTs and paramedics had been facing at the private ambulance service. Among them is poorly stocked and poorly maintained ambulances.

“For example, cervical collars, nasal cannulas and other supplies – we didn’t have them,” said Allen. “These are essential for when you’re responding to calls, or for when people can’t breathe or are having asthma attacks. These are necessities to do your job.”

When supplies ran low, employees were told to take them from other AMR ambulances. This had a domino effect: inadequately stocked ambulances weren’t allowed to take more lucrative 911 calls (AMR provides 911 services as well as transportation between facilities, known as interfacility transport, or IFT), which left the crew members assigned to those ambulances earning less than they’d been told.

Lindsay Washington, an EMT, echoed what Allen said: “We decided to organize because we had three main issues – we wanted working equipment, fair scheduling and fair pay. We are our patients’ primary providers. Without working equipment, we cannot give them the best care possible.”

Kyle Kemerer, an EMT who has been with AMR in the District of Columbia for the past two years, said having a union is about much more than fixing one problem.

“We didn’t have consistency. The policies changed every week,” recalls Kemerer. “We were having to take management’s word. That was really hard.”

Kemerer, along with a core group of employees, decided to gain a voice on the job through a union.

Under their newly ratified contract, employees’ base pay will increase, with regular wages in the future. The group also bargained for a better health care package. Employees used to have to shoulder the burden of their health care costs, paying 75 percent for health insurance, with AMR paying only 25 percent. Now, AMR will be covering 75 percent of the costs and employees will pay 25 percent of the cost.

While they’re proud of the gains they’ve achieved, these EMS professionals aren’t satisfied. They – and private sector EMS professionals across the country – want to continue to fight to make EMS a sustainable, long-term career in the private sector, bringing the profession further in line with other jobs in the medical field.

“This was a big step,” said Kemerer. “Now, we want to utilize the framework of the contract to continue to keep the company in line, improve operations and improve the working conditions.”