Manatee EMS workers air their grievances to commissioners

cnudi@bradenton.comDecember 5, 2012 

MANATEE -- With the results of a vote for union representation pending, a roomful of paramedics and emergency medical technicians aired their grievances about working conditions before the Manatee County Commission.

At a workshop session Tuesday, more than 30 county emergency medical services employees filled a meeting room at the Emergency Management building in Oneco, with some of them telling the commissioners what was driving the call for union representation.

Richard Griffin, one of the 13 who addressed the board, said he has 10 years with EMS and has seen the morale decline over that period.

Griffin said he was approached by several co-workers to find out about organizing a union, so he contacted the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.

"The international union said we needed 70 percent (of the bargaining unit) to sign interest cards and we got more than 80 in two weeks," he said. "That says something. There's a problem."

Outlining some of the issues many of the EMS staff has with county management, Griffin said pay was not a driving factor for seeking union representation.

He said there was a disparity on how policies are enforced from shift to shift. As an example, if two employees want to swap shifts, the two supervisors would have a different interpretation on whether or not the swap could take place.

Also, if a person gets sick at work, on some shifts they are told to find their own replacements, Griffin said.

One issue that several speakers brought up was a procedure called drafting, where a paramedic is forced to come in on their off day to fill the shift of an absent employee, regardless of their personal circumstance.

Andrew Powers, a county EMS employee for 6 1/2 years, said it was impossible to have a normal life with the current drafting policy where the person on the top of the call-in list has to report to work.

Day care services or the cable repairman "don't care about drafting," Powers said.

It was particularly unfair when they are required to schedule their vacations a year in advance and after making reservations receive a call on the first day of the vacation that they have to work, he said.

"Airlines and hotels don't care," Power said, "and neither does management."

He said all he asks is that they not be drafted on the first day of their vacation.

Several other paramedics told personal stories of having family emergencies and some EMS managers not showing any compassion for their situation.

Griffin said the department has had a high employee turnover in the past several years, with many paramedics and EMTs with more than 10 years leaving the force.

Angie Hadlock said that 61 percent of the EMS force has less than five years of experience. "It's not common for employees with 10-15-17 years to leave," Hadlock said. "Something's wrong."

Griffin said the purpose of meeting was to let the commissioners know their views and what the issues are.

The 108 eligible employees started voting by mail last Thursday and the ballots will be counted on Dec. 19 in Tallahassee, he said.

The outcome will be based only on the majority of the number of votes cast, Griffin said.

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