Misgivings remain as paramedic contract talks begin
Initial Lake Tahoe Ambulance Company contract negotiations ended Wednesday with paramedics feeling a lack of responsiveness from management.
Despite apparent resolution of one point of contention, several other issues remain in dispute.
“I feel there was no progress,” said Paramedic Paige Davenport-Crebs. “The issues that are serious to us, they didn’t take seriously.”
The paramedics and their union representative, Brent Harland, on Wednesday presented a contract proposal outlining salary increases, disciplinary procedures, health and safety provisions and more.
Management, consisting of company owner Ron Bush, Chief Executive Officer Chuck Staib and their lead negotiator, attorney Kevin Lorenz, are scheduled to present a counter proposal next month.
Lorenz, contacted during a break, said he preferred to not comment while negotiations are in progress.
Nine of the company’s 14 full and part time medics on March 21 voted in favor of union representation.
In the weeks after the vote, employees took offense to promotions for two employees hired within the past year and new limits on time they could spend at Barton Memorial Hospital after delivering patients.
Complaints about each issue led to still-pending unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
The paramedics feel their time at the hospital should not be restricted, because they need to fill out patient care reports. An incomplete or inaccurate report could lead to litigation, said Davenport-Crebs.
Staib on Wednesday reportedly agreed to rethink the hospital clearance times.
However, management is reportedly reluctant to change its position about the promotion of paramedics Jeff Bates and Carol Quinn to newly created supervisory positions.
The two were reportedly promoted about a month after they voted against unionization.
“It was a slap in the face to people who have worked here for years,” Davenport-Crebs said.
She and her co-workers believe the promotions were not based on merit. None could recall such management positions even existing in the past.
Besides feeling slighted, the paramedics believe that the promotions weakened their collective bargaining power, because it left two less non-management employees within the organization.
The paramedics want management to either rescind the promotions or hire two new paramedics to maintain 12 full timers within their bargaining unit, Harland said.
The paramedics in January cited unfair treatment as their primary motivation for unionizing.
They accuse management of arbitrary assignment of overtime, inequitable disciplinary policies and unresponsiveness to their input on patient care and work conditions. Their contract proposal seeks to remedy their misgivings about these issues.
Salary increases are also in their proposal.
Their existing pay scale includes seven step-increases – an annual raise based on successful performance.
However, Harland said that the scale itself has not been adjusted for inflation since LTA’s current contract with the county began in 1992.
LTA’s pay scale tops out at $9.75 an hour after eight years.
Paramedics with a similar level of service make $11.78 an hour in Stanislaus County, $13.02 an hour in Sacramento, Yolo and Placer counties and $14.96 an hour in Santa Clara County, Harland said.
Lake Tahoe Ambulance provides ambulance service for portions of El Dorado County within the Tahoe Basin, with the exception of Meeks Bay and Tahoma.
The county pays the company more than $800,000 a year for the service, with the amount adjusted annually for inflation.
Since 1992, this money has come from parcel fees collected within the service area and patient fees.
The labor talks come as LTA faces other key issues. A mail-in election mandated by Proposition 218 is under way for property owners to vote on whether the ambulance parcel fee will continue.
If the tax is rejected, the county and LTA or another provider would have to devise new, significantly scaled down ambulance service provisions.
Meanwhile, the county’s contract with LTA expires in November 1998. Some time within the next 18 months, the company and the county will discuss a new contract. Those talks may be complicated by a competing proposal from the Lake Valley Fire Protection District, which last year outlined terms of ambulance service based within the fire district.
Harland declined to speculate on how long the contract talks may take. He has been involved in similar negotiations that have only taken days while others have stretched on for more than a year.
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