Manatee commissioners seek to meet with disgruntled EMS workers

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 with disgruntled workers.

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 a union drive.

“The area of labor law includes a concept called 'unfair labor practice,”'said an e-mail sent to commissioners by Rob Eschenfelder, deputy county attorney. “This concept is broadly construed, and prevents any employer from making statements or taking actions, which may be construed as an ULP (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 in an e-mail earlier this week.

The workers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics, number about 110-120.

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 PERC’s hearing officer, according to Eschenfelder.

“Given PERC and any appeal time lines, 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, which is expected to be held at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, is that EMS workers are on a 24/48-hour schedule.

“When the meetings are held, it should be over a three-day period to catch all the shifts,” wrote union organizer Richard Griffin.

“If that’s not possible due to schedules, we can put together a core group that can provide any and all information.”