Manatee County commissioners, EMS workers, hope to meet

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 4, 2012 

MANATEE -- Manatee County commissioners have asked for a "listening session" with county EMS workers, some of whom complained during recent budget hearings about inadequate salaries and shrinking benefits.

Efforts were underway this week to set a place and time for the discussion between workers and commissioners, who expressed an interest in meeting after last month's budget hearings.

However, the board's attorney has cautioned commissioners against discussing the matter with individuals prior to any group meeting, since EMS workers are in the midst of an effort to unionize.

"The area of labor law includes a concept called 'unfair labor practice,'" said an email sent to commissioners by Rob Eschenfelder, deputy county attorney. "This concept is broadly construed, and prevents any employer from making statements or taking actions" that may be construed as an unfair labor practice.

The courts have even held that seemingly positive comments or actions could be taken as interfering with the rights of employees to collective bargaining rights, Eschenfelder wrote earlier this week.

The workers, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, number about 120.

They are being courted by the International Association of EMTs & Paramedics, which has asked the state Public Employee Relations Commission to oversee an election.

The initial question -- which jobs should be included in the proposed bargaining unit -- has not been ruled upon yet by the PERC hearing officer, according to Eschenfelder.

"Given PERC and any appeal timelines, it is expected that an election may occur in the first weeks of January or early February," he wrote.

Part of the difficulty of scheduling the meeting with commissioners is that EMS workers are on a 24/48-hour schedule, wrote union organizer Richard Griffin in a email message.

"When the meetings are held, it should be over a three-day period to catch all the shifts," he wrote.

"If that's not possible due to schedules, we can put together a core group that can provide any and all information," Griffin added.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitternote>

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