Los Angeles' unhappy city paramedics--still working without a contract after a 2 1/2 years of negotiations with city officials--were granted modest, retroactive pay raises by the City Council on Friday. But the talks and the resentment carry on.
Invoking aspects of the city's employee relations law, the council approved a package that includes increased vacation time and two, 4%-a-year raises covering July, 1985, through June, 1987. The council is authorized by law to unilaterally implement a salary plan after a contract period ends without a signed agreement.
17% Raise Rejected
The approved pay increase falls far short of the pay hike sought by the city's 350 paramedics and also short of a proposed 17% two-year hike proposed in non-binding arbitration in April. The City Council rejected that proposal as too high.
United Paramedics of Los Angeles President Fred Hurtado said the paramedics are planning to resume negotiations--and go to court--to get what they feel is their due. Hurtado said the paramedics would be satisfied with the 17% proposed by the arbitrator.
"We're disappointed with the failure of the process," Hurtado said. "If they ignore their own process, what good is the process? We feel this really points up a need for binding arbitration."
Hurtado said the union plans to sue the city for its paramedic overtime policy that on occasion requires the emergency medical attendants to be on duty up to 48 consecutive hours--a major issue of the contract talks. Paramedics become so fatigued, Hurtado said, that they can become a safety risk to themselves and the public.
Sought 40% Raise in '85
Royce Menkus, the city's chief negotiator, said both sides will resume negotiations for the contract period that began in July "as soon as we get a proposal from the paramedics." Menkus blamed the paramedics' "extraordinary" 1985 proposal for the last impasse. In those negotiations, the union initially sought raises of up to 40% for some job classes, she said. Paramedics argued their pay should be on par with firefighters.
The arbitrator's 17%, two-year plan was rejected, Menkus said, because "the city didn't feel the fact-finder's recommendation reflected the facts."
The pay hike approved Friday will increase the annual starting pay for a certified paramedic to $29,274 and the top pay to $40,465, Menkus said. The retroactive hike will be paid in a lump sum, she said.
Hurtado said he believes that, despite the impasse, the talks "raised the consciousness of the City Council." He cited a motion by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores on Friday calling for the city staff to begin a "full and comprehensive examination" of the deployment, scheduling and workload of the paramedics.
"By ignoring the paramedics' warnings of work-overload and professional burnout, we endanger not only the lives and health of our paramedics, but the lives and health of the people they serve," Flores said.