Unions' Battle for EMS Members Heating Up

Two unions, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the National EMS Association, are duking it out, figuratively speaking, in their bids to win private-sector EMS members' hearts and minds and to negotiate new contracts around the country. The Teamsters say some 1,000 paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and dispatchers on the East and West Coasts voted for Teamster representation Dec. 5-6. NEMSA counters that it has added bargaining units in California, Washington State, and Massachusetts this year and completed contracts for members in four major cities, with a fifth contract in San Diego expected to be completed this month.

NEMSA (www.nemsausa.org), based in Modesto, Calif., claims to have more than 5,000 members. It is battling both the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union to win over EMS personnel. NEMSA emphasizes its charitable giving and says it is the answer for EMS personnel everywhere. The much larger Teamsters say their union is preferred because it has the power to secure needed rights for EMS members.

The Dec. 5-6 victories included 880 EMTs, paramedics, and dispatchers at American Medical Response, Inc. (323 of them are based in the New Haven, Conn., area and 557 are in the Portland, Ore., area). "This was a huge victory for our new members," said Bob Bayusik, secretary-treasurer of Local 443 in New Haven. "Their previous union, which was local, hadn't responded to their needs. We have a structure and backing that appealed to them." John Silva, president of Local 58 in Vancouver, Wash., claimed NEMSA "had failed to meet members' needs [and was] voted out by a 6-1 margin." The Teamsters say they defeated an attempted raid by NEMSA on more than 100 EMTs in Spokane, Wash., in November and won an election Oct. 23 among EMTs at Olympic Ambulance, Inc. in Olympia, Wash.

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