Despite the threat of a labor strike that could begin next week, the Common Council on Thursday agreed to a six-month contract extension with its ambulance service provider.
Rural/Metro Medical Service is preparing to call in employees from other states in the event of a strike by the local workforce, a top company official told the Council. The answer satisfied city lawmakers, who voted, 6-0, to approve the contract extension.
In light of the possible strike, the extension includes a $1 million performance bond the city can use in case services required under the contract are not provided.
Lawmakers delayed a vote scheduled earlier in the week until questions were answered concerning what would happen in the event of a strike, ambulance response times and Rural/Metro employee wages and benefits. They met in special session Thursday to approve the agreement.
The latest extension, which affords Rural/Metro an exclusive agreement and calls for the company to pay the city a monthly $29,166 franchise fee, will take effect as soon as Mayor Byron W. Brown signs it. It expires Dec. 31.
The city is preparing to solicit bids for longer-term ambulance services and wants to have a contract in place by Jan. 1.
Wages and benefits are the subject of negotiations between Rural/Metro and Teamsters Union Local 375. The union represents roughly 400 paramedics and emergency medical technicians and gave the company a 10-day notice that it intends to strike, which could happen on Tuesday.
Consequently, the company is preparing to mobilize 50 to 70 employees in surrounding states, said Richard F. Doggett, Rural/Metro vice president of the East Zone.
North Council Member Joseph Golombek had been concerned about the company’s response to a fire on Riverside Avenue that claimed the life of an infant early Tuesday morning but on Thursday said that he has since learned that the response time was sufficient.
Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen questioned whether Rural/Metro employees are paid the $12.47 per hour living wage, as mandated by the city, when they are in the city, and a lower wage when they are in the suburbs and wondered what kind of effect that would have on response times in all municipalities.
Jay Smith, Rural/Metro division manager, said the company complies with the city’s living wage law and said that ambulance crews are not directed to wait outside the city when they are not responding to calls as a way to lower the company’s costs.
Teamsters Local 375 President Kevin Drysdale declined to comment on the wage issue, as negotiations are ongoing.
Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith said he hoped that the new labor contract would provide for wages for Rural/Metro employees equal to the city’s living wage.
The city and Rural/Metro had been operating under monthly extensions since a two-year extension on a five-year contract expired July 1, 2012.