ST. GEORGE – Unionized ambulance medics could strike this Saturday after negotiations with Gold Cross Ambulance stalled last week. While the union accuses the company of purposefully derailing negotiations, it is also considering its options. Meanwhile, Gold Cross officials assure the City of St. George that ambulance service will continue undisturbed regardless of a potential strike.
Gold Cross Ambulance employees in St. George joined the Utah Teamsters Union last year and entered into negotiations with Salt Lake City-based Gold Cross Ambulance on a number of issues. Employees have claimed they are underpaid, overworked and deal with poor working conditions.
Though talks originally stalled at the end of May, Spencer Hogue, a representative of Teamsters Local 222 out of Salt Lake City, said it appeared issues were being resolved when negotiations began again in July.
However, negotiations stalled once again over the lingering issue of employees wanting their checks to be direct deposited to a union credit union and wanting money to be withheld from their paychecks to pay union dues. Gold Cross has said “no” each time these matters have been brought to the table, company president Mike Moffitt said.
“It’s too bad that it all came down to the fact we won’t collect union dues out of employee paychecks,” Moffitt said. “That was the sole item in the negotiation session on the 17th of July. It came up on the table about 6 p.m. and we told them no – just like we’ve told them every time for almost a year. They knew clearly our position on it.”
Both Moffitt and Hogue said the negotiations looked like they were on the verge of wrapping up when the dues issue brought everything to a halt.
“It’s easy for them to hold onto this issue to the very end because it demonizes the union – saying, ‘All the union wants is your money,’” Hogue said. “They say that to their employees, when the reality is it’s their best talking point – that we’re hung up on dues. We’re not hung up on dues.”
Hogue said Tuesday that he is preparing a counterproposal to send to Gold Cross, yet he expects the company to refuse it.
“I think they have one concern left, and they will say ‘no’ to it because they have no intention of coming to an agreement,” Hogue said.
The unionized Gold Cross employees will meet on Saturday to determine their next course of action. They will take a vote by 2 p.m., with whatever they decide going into effect at 3 p.m.
Options before the employees include picketing after hours, handing out handbills outlining their position, or striking – which is viewed as a last resort.
“A strike is our last option,” Hogue said. “It’s not fun for us. It’s not what we like to do. It’s our last resort. It’s when we cannot get our difference resolved.”
If a strike does occur, Moffitt said, ambulance service will continue regardless.
“I believe they will do what they say, and we’ll be prepared for it,” Moffitt said. “There will be no drop in service.”
Gold Cross will bring extra personnel into the service area to cover for striking employees. The company also has mutual aid agreements with neighboring emergency medical service agencies, such as Ivins Ambulance and the Hurricane Valley Fire District, to help provide cover in the case of a mass-casualty situation.
Whatever Gold Cross chooses to do to keep service rolling, the City of St. George fully expects the EMS provider to continue to meet city requirements governing ambulance service.
St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said that Moffitt has “assured the city everything will be taken care of.”
Still, Stoker added, “We’re hoping everything gets resolved this week so there’s not a problem.”
Gold Cross Ambulance is the largest private ambulance company in Utah. It took over ambulance service in the St. George area and part of Washington City in mid-2013 following a two-year fight with then provider Dixie Ambulance Service over exclusive rights to the area. The state ultimately ruled in Gold Cross Ambulance’s favor, allowing it to take over rights to the area.
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