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Paramedics, Employer at Impasse in Contract Talks

June 09, 1988|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

Paramedics employed by a private firm commissioned to serve Glendale residents have been working without a contract since reaching an impasse in negotiations with company management last week over salary and working conditions.

The 31 paramedics, members of the independent Professional Paramedics Assn., are staging daily informational pickets but have promised not to go on strike, said Dan Stubbs, labor consultant for the association.

The union is demanding a starting salary increase from the current rate of $5.05 an hour to $10 an hour and an increase in top pay from the current $7.98 an hour to $13 an hour.

'Absolutely Miserable'

"The wages paid are miserable . . . absolutely miserable," Stubbs said.

But management at Professional Ambulance Service, the Glendale firm that employs the paramedics, has refused to move beyond its offer of $6.40 an hour for starting pay and $8.40 an hour for top scale. The time to reach top scale would be reduced from seven years to five years under the company offer, said Allan R. Stone, company president.

"Our present salary is in the upper quartile of all the private ambulance paramedic providers in L.A. County," Stone said. "Our offer makes us No. 1 in Los Angeles County's private industry."

Stubbs countered that while Stone's figures are accurate, the offer is nevertheless unsuitable.

"Usually, paramedics are employed by a city or county and their wages are much better," Stubbs said. "The wage rate Stone is talking about is primarily that of ambulance companies that do little more than transport patients from their homes to hospitals."

Difference in Training

Paramedics receive more training than emergency medical technicians who staff most ambulances, said Robin Cole, association president. For example, while paramedics can administer drugs and advanced life support to a patient, an emergency medical technicians can provide only oxygen and basic life support, he said.

In Glendale, only about 20% of the ambulance company's calls are emergency calls. The remainder are non-emergency transport runs, Stone said.

Professional Ambulance Service has provided exclusive emergency service in Glendale for 12 years. Two years ago, the Glendale City Council voted 3 to 2 to award a five-year contract to the firm. Previously, the city reimbursed the company for false alarms and outstanding patient bills. But under the current contract, the company agreed to absorb the losses.

The council members who opposed the plan said they preferred paramedic service run by the city Fire Department. However, that option was far more costly.

Length of Workweek

Another major issue that caused the May 31 breakdown in negotiations over the proposed three-year contract centers on the length of the workweek. Stone wants to remove a provision in the former contract guaranteeing a 56-hour workweek. At the same time, the union is demanding that Stone guarantee automatic pay increases that will make up for the lost hours.

Stone said if he decided to reduce the workweek, the company would reopen negotiations over pay. But he said he refused to guarantee the amount of such raises beforehand.

Other issues that caused a stall in negotiations include changes in policies requested by the paramedics. Among them is a demand that work assignments are scheduled so each paramedic will receive a regular share of emergency calls.

Informational Pickets

Since June 1, the paramedics have staged informational pickets in front of Professional Ambulance Service's main office on West Broadway.

Twice a day, about five paramedics march with placards reading: "Is medicine a question of morality or money?" and "Profits are utmost, patients are Gone With The Wind." The latter refers the firm's owner, Rand Brooke, who played Charles Hamilton, Scarlett O'Hara's first husband in the classic 1939 film "Gone With the Wind."

Stubbs said the paramedics plan to continue the pickets but will not go out on strike.

"The paramedics have indicated a desire not to strike," he said.

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