Austin-Travis EMS work contract talks to resume after impasse

4:53 p.m Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 Local
Tamir Kalifa
Paramedics Kim Blumberg and Scott Anderson return an unoccupied stretcher to an ambulance as Austin-Travis County EMS and Seton care teams work to transfer patients from University Medical Center Brackenridge to the new Dell Seton Medical Center at UT on May 21. Negotiations between city officials and the medics’ union over a new work contract are set to resume after a City Council vote Thursday put an end to an impasse. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Negotiations over the employment contract for Austin and Travis County medics will resume now after the Austin City Council voted Thursday to direct city officials back to the table.

The talks reached an impasse last week when, after months of discussions, the two sides could not reach a final agreement on Oct. 30. Representatives with EMS asked for more time, but Interim City Manager Elaine Hart said she didn’t think they could close the nearly $8 million difference between the two sides’ proposals.

However, because of the council’s vote on Thursday, negotiations are now to slated to resume.

In the meantime, the council also decided that all provisions of the previous EMS contract should stay in place until the two sides come to an agreement.

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“We appreciate City Council’s involvement and support on the matters related to the EMS contract,” said Anthony Marquardt, president of the Austin-Travis County EMS union. “They have shown by resolution today the support for the frontline staff. We are hopeful that this will eventually lead to resuming negotiations centered on improving the working conditions and appropriate compensation for recruiting, hiring and retaining highly qualified EMS professionals to continue to enhance our delivery model to serve our community and its many visitors.”

City officials were offering a 10.5 percent raise over five years through various forms, such as across-the-board raises or stipends for employees who had higher education degrees or took on nights shifts, Larry Watts, with the city’s Labor Relations Department, told the American-Statesman.

“We were pretty much open to however they wanted to divide up the money,” Watts said.

Watts told the City Council last week that this compares to a 12 percent raise offered to the Austin Police Department over five years and a 6.5 percent raise offered to the Austin Fire Department over five years.

This was not acceptable, Marquardt said, because he and other EMS officials feel that medics deserve salaries that are comparable to what Austin’s firefighters and police officers make. After a year with each department, for instance, medics make $41,867, firefighters make $56,588, and police make $65,850, according to city data.

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Hart told the City Council last week that she let the negotiations reach an impasse because the city couldn’t offer any more than it was offering without dipping into reserves.

“I regret that we got to this place,” Hart said. “It’s unfortunate. It is not meant to harm our employees in any way because we all value what they do every day, and it’s a critical service that they provide. But I have to stay within my budgetary limits.”

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