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Paramedics and emergency medical technicians at Rural/Metro Medical Services rejected a contract proposal this week in a near-unanimous vote.

“I would expect the company would have gotten the message by now, but they should be paying close attention,” said Kevin Drysdale, president of the roughly 400-member Teamsters Union Local 375.

Of the nearly 300 Rural/Metro workers who voted Tuesday and Wednesday, only one supported the proposed four-year contract.

The two sides have made progress on noneconomic matters in 17 negotiating sessions since April but remain at odds over wages.

“While we are disappointed in the result of this vote, we remain committed to the dialogue that has led to tentative agreements in a majority of the proposed articles,” said Jay Smith, general manager for Rural/Metro’s Western New York division, in a statement. “We are in agreement with the union when it comes to the review and redesign of processes and programs that further improve work conditions and offer opportunity for enrichment to our employees.”

“The proposed wage increase, albeit in line with recently ratified agreements locally and nationally, presents perhaps the greatest divide to this point. An agreement of this nature can have a profound impact, so we must achieve a reasonable balance that provides a wage increase for our employees and a fiscally sustainable future for our operation,” Smith said.

Neither side would describe the wage offer, but Drysdale said he told the company and a federal mediator that it had no chance of passing.

“There was a very, very, very unacceptable wage proposal in play, which they said was their last and final offer,” Drysdale said. “It was not much more than they currently have, and a lot less than it needs to be.”

Health insurance is also an issue.

“They want to decimate the health insurance we have, the options we have, and put [workers] into one company plan,” Drysdale said. “The company’s mind is built on profit, not the people.”

The former contract expired Sunday.

The local voted two weeks ago to authorize a strike. By law, a 10-day notice of a walkout would have to be given first.

A Teamsters news release, issued the day before voting started, predicted the contract’s rejection and a strike notice.

Drysdale urged Rural/Metro to “move to any level they need to for these hardworking professionals who provide paramedic and EMT services to Buffalo and surrounding counties to get a fair wage and benefit package.”

No new talks are scheduled, and the mediator will be informed of the rejection vote.

“We will continue to work in good faith with the union to reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial,” Smith said. “In the meantime, I am confident that our professional and dedicated EMTs and paramedics will continue to provide the communities of Western New York with the very highest level of patient care.”

Rural/Metro, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., provides ambulance services to communities in 21 states. Locally, Rural/Metro covers most of Erie and Niagara counties, except for the Tonawandas, Amherst, Clarence, Lancaster and Grand Island, a spokesman for the company said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com