• Seattle prepares contingency plans for ambulance strike

    By: Essex Porter

    Updated:

    The Seattle Fire Department has begun contingency planning in case critical private ambulance service is disrupted by a labor dispute. 

    The emergency medical technicians for American Medical Response are now voting on whether to accept the company's offer or authorize a strike. They are members of Teamsters Local 763.

    A strike would potentially mean Seattle Medic One would have to spend much more time transporting patients to the emergency room, even when they are not critically ill.

    The EMTs who work on the AMR ambulances say they don't make a living wage, and they want that to change.

    They handle 40,000 calls for help a year in the city of Seattle so the firefighters from Medic One can focus on just the most critical of life-threatening situations.

    At a union rally in August, EMT Meagan Scherzinger told us she'd had to sell blood plasma to get by.

    “It is demeaning to have to sell any part of your body to make enough to eat,” she said.

    AMR operates under a contract with the city of Seattle.

    City Council member Kshama Sawant and fellow council members passed a resolution asking the mayor’s office to press for living wages in the new contract that was just negotiated. It had limited success.

    Sawant released a copy of the letter AMR sent to employees last Friday. 

    Written by regional director Mike Andrews, it says starting employees currently make $15.54 an hour.

    The company is offering a new starting wage of $17 an hour effective Jan. 1, a 9.39% increase.

    Union members countered by telling the council the company pays an average starting wage of $19.40 an hour in comparable West Coast cities.

    In the letter released by Sawant, AMR responded with a threat to leave Seattle.

    "The future of the Seattle Fire contact… is at stake.," it says. “Operation has been losing money for several years." It also says “any work action …will cause the Company to exit… the Seattle Fire District contract."

    We asked the Seattle Fire Department what it would do if AMR went through with its threat to leave.

    "The Seattle Fire Department is committed to providing ongoing quality care to the community of Seattle," it said in a statement. "We are exploring various contingency options."

    Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office added, “The City hopes they are able to find a resolution to provide strong benefits and wages to its employees. The Mayor believes in a contract that supports AMR workers while ensuring that AMR can manage costs for patients in Seattle. The City is and will continue to provide timely, responsive emergency medical services.”

    In a statement to KIRO after this story was published, AMR Regional Directory Mike Andrews said: 

    “The situation in Seattle is concerning to us for a number of reasons. Foremost, we are committed to the healthcare needs of the citizens of Seattle. We have done everything to work a viable solution that allows us to continue providing care at the highest levels. During our negotiations with the City, we attempted to find concessions and rates that would allow us to offer additional increases for our employees. We understand the financial constraints Seattle is under and the contract we have is what the system can afford under a Basic Life Support (BLS) model with no subsidies. Based on the current contract, we have offered the union a contract that allows us to provide wage increases ranging from 14.75 percent to 25 percent over the 3-year life of the agreement, as well as support the infrastructure to continue serving the city of Seattle. We are hopeful that contract will be ratified.”

    AMR has not yet responded to a request for comment.

    Teamsters Local 763 is conducting the vote by mail because members are spread all around western Washington.

    Members can vote until Nov. 30, when the outcome will be announced.

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