OREN BARZILAY: Determined to bridge pay gap.

Oren Barzilay, the president of Emergency Medical Service Local 2507 of District Council 37, led his slate to a resounding re-election victory, garnering more than 75 percent of the vote to best Paramedic Dave Cook by a count of 643-189.

The big win came as the union looked to resume contract talks with the de Blasio administration next month. While Mr. Barzilay has made clear that his goal is to sharply close a $35,000 salary gap that exists between veteran Emergency Medical Technicians and Firefighters, the talks will take place as the city sinks deeper into its worst fiscal crisis in 45 years and has limited other municipal worker--including uniformed employees--to raises averaging slightly more than 2 percent annually.

Virus Also Looms Large

It is also bracing for a possible resurgence of the coronavirus that has claimed the lives of four Local 2507 members. Three other EMTs have committed suicide in recent months, and dozens of others who contracted the virus remain sidelined with serious medical complications that the union says may leave them unable to return to work.

The union's ballots were originally due back at the Manhattan offices of the American Arbitration Association by April 26, but their tabulation was delayed after the firm had to shut down as a non-essential business when Governor Cuomo issued a statewide "pause" order five weeks earlier.

"Our members have seen how hard we work and the accomplishments we have made in the short time we've been in office," Mr. Barzilay said in a text message to the rank and file. "We have much more work to do. We are steadfast on achieving equality and parity, which our men and women deserve. Thank you for your continued support, thank you for standing by us, good days are ahead of us."

"Thanks for those who were able to vote and congratulations to those that won, and now it's time for us to come together and hold management and the city accountable," Mr. Cook said during a phone interview.

Others Re-Elected

Union members also re-elected Vice President Michael Greco, Secretary-Treasurer Lance Winfield and Recording Secretary Carl Gandolfo to three year terms.

Local 2507 represents roughly 4,000 members, which means more than three quarters of them did vote.

"Historically, our ballot count is a little low, with the exception of the last election when it went over 1,000, and that was when the rank and file was really fed up," Mr. Barzilay said.

In a wide-ranging interview, he said his top priority remains "pressing for wage equality" with all other emergency services personnel, as well as pension equity.

"The Mayor always talks about equality and fairness across the city and state as well, so EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors should have the same pension as police and fire who can retire at 22 years" at half their final average salary, he said.

Child-Care Concerns

Mr. Barzilay said the plight of many of his members, who are single parents and trying to sort out child-care arrangements for their children amidst the pandemic, highlights the impact of the $35,000 wage gap between them and their Firefighter colleagues at maximum salary.

"True pay equity would go a long way to alleviate the child-care issues our members face because they could actually afford child care," he said.

Mayor de Blasio's continued threat to lay off up to 22,000 city workers unless Washington provides a major cash infusion to local and state governments has created anxiety for Local 2507 members, according to Mr. Barzilay.

"Members are constantly afraid of layoffs, and we like to reassure them we are still looking good, because just two weeks ago they put in a new class of 180 EMTs and they have another class scheduled in October," he said. "What I am afraid of is the mass exodus we are having now continuing because people are just leaving because they don't want to take their chances of exposing their families."

According to the union, the number of veterans with 20 years are more on the job has dropped to 150 from more than 400 last year.

Young Teaching the Younger

"That's a lot of collective knowledge out the door and so, what we practically have is a situation where relatively new employees are teaching newer employees," he said.

A multi-year study by medical researchers at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that "paramedic tenure and cumulative experience is associated with better EMS performance.

They noted that the more experienced EMTs were, the quicker they stabilized patients in the field, which "reduced total out-of-hospital time and on-scene time...Furthermore, the experience was more strongly associated with performance among paramedics with more than six years of service."

"On our job today the average EMT has less than three years on the job," Mr. Barzilay said.

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, the city through the Federal Emergency Management Agency imported 500 EMTs from around the country that the union says were paid $25 an hour, 24 hours a day, accruing overtime pay at the 40-hour mark.

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