EMTs who work for the private ambulance company American Medical Response and make a starting wage of $15.54 an hour have called off their planned strike.
A strike of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) planned for Friday is on hold as the company and union prepare for a last-minute bargaining meeting Thursday night.
The EMTs work for the private ambulance company American Medical Response (AMR), which contracts with the city of Seattle to provide some ambulance service. The company and the EMTs’ union, Teamsters Local 763, have been negotiating a new contract since January. In late November, union members rejected AMR’s latest contract offer and authorized a strike. The company had not agreed to meet with the union since, both sides said.
On Thursday afternoon, AMR executives agreed to a meeting and the union agreed to suspend their plans for a strike.
Teamsters Local 763 Secretary-Treasurer Scott Sullivan said in a statement the union is “suspending the strike deadline in a show of good faith.”
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“Our intent has always been to resolve our contract peacefully, and at the bargaining table, without interrupting vital public-health services to our community,” Sullivan said.
The union argues the EMTs need pay raises and improved health-care benefits. Starting AMR EMTs in Seattle make $15.54 an hour, with pay increasing to about $17 after five years and $24 after 12 years.
The company has offered to increase that range from $17 starting out to $26 after 12 years. A recent Teamsters’ offer in bargaining sought similar pay but faster increases: $17.50 for starting employees, $20 after a year, $24 after six years and $27 after 12 years. Seattle’s minimum wage will be $16 for large employers beginning in January.
The company, which is not funded by the city and makes its money off the fees it charges patients, has said it can’t afford higher wage increases because of low reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid.
AMR spokesman Jason Sorrick said the company still hasn’t agreed to meet the union’s pay demands but is “hopeful that during discussions tonight an agreement can be reached and hopefully both sides can move forward.”
A strike would not have completely shut down Seattle’s response to people in medical crisis, but threatened to disrupt the region’s complex emergency-response system. AMR EMTs provide basic life support and transportation among hospitals and medical facilities. More highly-trained paramedics who work for the Seattle Fire Department and Medic One respond to more severe advanced-life-support calls.
In King County, AMR transports 325 patients a day and deploys 68 ambulance units during the day and 38 at night, according to a recent letter from the company to the county. The union representing Seattle firefighters had pledged to try to pick up calls AMR EMTs would usually take.
This week, AMR brought in about 200 of its employees from other states to work in place of the striking EMTs, but struggled to get the necessary approval from local officials to allow those employees to work in Washington.