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EMS Workers’ New Raise Comes with Longer Hours

NEW YORK, N.Y.—More than 4,500 Fire Department inspectors and Emergency Medical Services workers would see their pay go up by more than 11% under a tentative contract agreement with the city announced  this month — but they’d also have to work another 131 hours a year. 

If ratified by District Council 37’s Local 2507 and Local 3621, the four-year deal would raise their pay by 2% retroactive to June 29, 2018; 2.25% retroactive to June 2019; and 3% retroactive to July 29, 2020, with another 4% coming on Sept. 12. It would increase their annual workload to 2,088 hours beginning Sept. 12, up from 1,957 for most workers under the previous contract.

DC 37 said it had not yet scheduled a ratification vote. The contract would run through July 29, 2022.

“Our men and women have sacrificed so much for our city, they work tirelessly to survive under the current financial climate we live in,” Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay said in a statement. “This contract brings us closer to what we have been fighting for.” Local 2507 represents more than 3,000 of the Fire Department’s emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and fire protection inspectors.

“This contract addresses issues that have negatively impacted EMS for many years,” said Vincent Variale, president of Local 3621, which represents EMS lieutenants and captains. “While it does not provide parity with the other Uniformed Emergency Services, it does provide financial relief for our EMS members.”

The increased hours are a “productivity enhancement,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. It estimates that the contract would cost the city almost $290 million over the next five years, rising from $26.7 million this year to $79.5 million in fiscal 2025.

The other productivity enhancement would be a 6% “mental health response differential,” increased pay for EMS employees who are trained and available to be deployed in the city’s new program for responding to mental-health calls when the subject does not have a weapon and is not considered an imminent risk of violence or danger to themselves. 

“This agreement increases wages and will allow us to expand our incredible mental-health pilot, which has already proven to be an effective way to handle nonviolent mental-health calls,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.  

The program, begun in early June in three police precincts in Harlem and East Harlem, pairs EMS workers with city mental-health social workers to respond to those 911 calls, rather than having them accompanied by police. Dubbed the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division (B-HEARD), its intent is to minimize the chances of police killing an “emotionally disturbed person” in a confrontation. 

In the program’s first month, however, police wound up accompanying EMTs on about 80% of the 532 mental-health calls in the three precincts, according to data released in July by the Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health.  Most of the calls involved people the 911 dispatchers considered a threat risk, and social workers were unavailable in about 30 cases considered nonviolent.

Of the 107 cases where B-HEARD teams responded, the office said, almost half of the subjects were either calmed down at the scene or taken to a community-care facility, while half were taken to a hospital, and only 5% refused medical assistance. Among calls answered by police, 82% of subjects were taken to a hospital and 18% refused assistance. B-HEARD teams called police for help seven times.

The city plans to expand the mental-health response program and the pay differentials for participating throughout its workforce, a spokesperson for DC 37 said. The Office of Community Mental Health projected that in the coming months, B-HEARD teams will respond to about half of 911 mental-health calls in the areas where the program is operating.

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