ST. GEORGE – Claiming they are overworked, underpaid and dealing with other poor working conditions, employees of Gold Cross Ambulance in St. George joined the Teamsters labor union and have been in talks with Gold Cross for several months now.
Gold Cross employees voted to join the Utah Teamster’s Union in September 2014, and engaged in contract negotiations with Salt Lake City-based Gold Cross the following month. After eight months of negotiations, it appeared a mutual agreement was on the horizon, and then it fell through.
“We thought we had it wrapped up,” said Spencer Hogue, a representative of Teamsters Local 222 out of Salt Lake City. Things fell apart when Gold Cross began to engage in “bad faith bargaining,” he said.
“We’re at the point we don’t think they’re willing to work with us,” Hogue said.
For a time, there wasn’t any contact between Gold Cross and the union, Hogue said, yet that changed last week. A new round in talks is scheduled to begin later this month in Salt Lake City. If matters aren’t resolved, Hogue said, there is the possibility of a work stoppage.
“Our objective is not to break the company or disrupt service,” paramedic and Gold Cross employee Chris Bown said. The objective is to create a better work environment with better pay, he said.
Employees have to deal with a seemingly hostile work environment, Bown said. With some employees scared they could lose their jobs on any given day, he said, this has led to a state of mistrust between the employees and those above them.
“Is today the day we’re told we’re no longer paramedics?” Bown said.
The employees are also seeking better pay for the hours they work, as well as better accommodations. Paramedics start at just over $11 an hour, which some employees have argued doesn’t approach a living wage for the hours they work. Those hours can come in the forms of multiple 12-hour shifts that run back-to-back. Some of those shifts are done entirely in the ambulances, Bown said.
“You live in the trucks for 24 hours,” Bown said. That is because there aren’t additional stations around town where the paramedics can stage their vehicle and where they can get out and rest.
One paramedic worked a combination of shifts that reached over 50 hours, Bown said, though added the entirety of the time was not spent in one of ambulance.
But why are the paramedics taking on multiple shifts? Bown said it’s due to their losing paramedics to other agencies in other cities, like Las Vegas. Less staffing leaves more shifts open that need to be covered in order to maintain a continuity of coverage.
The paramedics who leave also tend to be the more experienced paramedics. Around five paramedics have left in the last two months, Bown said.
Issues concerning pension and insurance benefits have also been addressed in negotiations, as both are areas employees feel the company is lacking in.
Gold Cross Ambulance took over 911-emergency transport service in St. George and part of Washington City in 2013 after a two-year fight with Dixie Ambulance over who would keep or receive the exclusive state-license for the area.
After serving the St. George for nearly 18 months, the ambulance service and the City of St. George entered into a standard of care agreement. The agreement, established in the form of a city ordinance, outlines various standards that Gold Cross, or any private ambulance service, must meet in order to guarantee patient care and safety.
“We feel like we’ve had good service from Gold Cross,” said Marc Mortensen, assistant to the city manager of St. George.
The city has been notified of the issues between Gold Cross and its unionized employees, Mortensen said. Whatever happens, the city expects to see Gold Cross continue to provide ambulance service for city residents and maintain the standard of patient care, he said.
Attempts to reach Gold Cross Ambulance yielded no comment from the company.
- City approves ambulance ordinance, dispatch agreement
- City Council tables ambulance ordinance
- City Council discusses proposed ambulance service standards
- Officials satisfied with Gold Cross service thus far, continue to evaluate
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