Seattle EMTs set to strike next week if contract not reached

SEATTLE -- Ambulance response could be disrupted late next week unless emergency medical technicians and their employer, American Medical Response, come to an agreement on a contract.

On Nov. 3, the EMTs' union voted 310-46 to reject the latest offer by AMR and to go on strike.

City officials, however, are hoping both parties get back to the negotiating table before a strike deadline of 12 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21.

"It’s what they told us in an overwhelming vote, that this latest offer was not good enough to satisfy their needs,” said Anthony Murrietta, president of Teamsters Local Union #763.

According to Murrieta, what the EMTs want is simple:

a living wage to support themselves or their families.

"Can you rent an apartment for $17 an hour, 40-hours a week in the city of Seattle, " Murrieta asked. "Can you rent in any outlying area?"

According to AMR, they currently offer newer EMT’s $15.54-an-hour.

Their latest offer would bump that to $17-an-hour.

For more  senior EMTs,  it would go from $24 an hour currently, to $26-dollars an hour, according to AMR spokesperson, Jason Sorrick.

For Murrieta however, he argues that it's still is not enough because AMR is not taking into account the cost EMTs have to contribute toward health insurance.

“The employer wants to focus on $17-an-hour," he said. "But what they’re not doing is comparing it to the market and seeing that $17-an-hour, along with requiring the employee picking up 25 percent the cost (of health insurance) is putting them below what a minimum wage job would be anywhere int he city."

According to AMR, the company spends more than $13-million-a-year to provide services in Seattle, and that wages demanded by the union, would add an additional $7.4 million in costs.

They also argue the wages being demanded are equal to EMTs in San Francisco.  The big difference is that EMTs in San Francisco provide advanced life support. Here, they don’t, according to AMR.

City officials are speaking out over the possible strike.

Seattle city councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, through a statement,  supports the Teamsters.

“The Teamsters deserve our support – whether through standing on strike lines, working towards long-term budget solutions or an alternate vehicle for EMT services, and I stand at the ready.  While the EMT’s are on strike, many of our union brothers and sisters must continue their work so our City stays healthy and services don’t stop but are in full support.  While work continues, we will not be complacent,” she said.

Mayor Jenny Durkan urged both sides to get back to negotiations.

Excerpts from the letter stated: “Our community is counting on the parties to return to the table to resolve the current labor dispute that includes strong benefits and wages for the employees delivering these critical services. I am confident the parties can reach an agreement that supports wages and benefits for AMR workers, while ensuring that AMR can manage costs for patients in Seattle.”

If a strike happens, AMR said a plan is in place.

“To address the strike, AMR’s operation in Seattle will use State authorized, certified and accredited supervisor and management personnel from throughout the State of Washington and the nation,” said Mike Andrews AMR Seattle Regional Director. “AMR will begin operating internally under an Incident Command System.”

Mayor Durkan’s office also said plans have been in place for weeks.

“The City began contingency planning over three weeks ago as we learned of the potential for a strike. The City is exploring a range of options to ensure that we continue to provide Seattle residents with timely critical health and safety services and, in the event of a strike, we will announce those plans,” said Mayor Durkan’s communications director, Kamaria Hightower.