EMS_praying

DELIVER US FROM HARD TIMES: Emergency Medical Technicians offer a prayer before starting their tours at a time when many of them have become ill or exhausted battling the coronavirus and are frustrated that their maximum salary is roughly $35,000 less than that of Firefighters even though they have played a more-prominent role in treating patients during the pandemic.

The tally for the leadership of Local 2507 of District Council 37, which represents Emergency Medical Service employees and Fire Prevention Inspectors, has been delayed because the firm conducting it has been closed for nearly two months under the state's "pause" order because it is not considered an essential business.

Local 2507 ballots were due back at the city offices of the American Arbitration Association by April 26.

Waiting for Cuomo

"We are still waiting for Gov. Cuomo to open up non-essential businesses," said a spokesperson for AAA. "We can't go to the office and we don't know the date yet when we will be able to."

Local 2507 held its nominating session March 4 at its Queens headquarters, 18 days before the Governor's restrictions took effect statewide. 

Union President Oren Barzilay is seeking a second three-year term on a slate that includes Vice President Michael Greco, Secretary-Treasurer Lance Winfield, and Recording Secretary Carl Gandolfo. 

Paramedic Dave Cook is seeking to unseat Mr. Barzilay on a slate that has David Cadogan running for vice president, Stephanie French for secretary-treasurer, and Christina Oliver for recording secretary.

Mr. Barzilay has been outspoken on issues ranging from the wage gap between his members and Firefighters—which he has charged has become even harder to justify because of the greater responsibilities placed on Emergency Medical Technicians in responding to cases involving possible coronavirus patients—to getting enough personal protective equipment and increasing hiring to deal with the pandemic.

Challenger's Issues

Mr. Cook, a Local 2507 delegate from 2013 to 2018 who has also served as the union's Brooklyn coordinator, is also stressing those issues while complaining about how the state restrictions have hindered his slate's ability to campaign.

In a phone interview, he claimed he was initially "told everything was postponed, and then a member told me they got a ballot in the mail and we had no idea the ballots were actually going out."

He said the COVID-19 crisis had truncated the campaign period and meant his slate could not visit EMT stations around the city to make their case directly to members.

"We were only able to reach several hundred members—four of our slate tested positive for COVID19," Mr. Cook said. "And members didn't want to hear about politics. They were worried about their own health, their family's health and the psychological toll it took."

Mr. Barzilay countered that the union had been completely transparent about the election's timeline.

'Everyone Knew'

"He knew very well the ballots went out," Mr. Barzilay said in a phone interview. "All the members knew, and furthermore, even after the pandemic was going on, they were still doing station visits. If anyone should be complaining, it should be our slate, because we had to be dealing with all of the pandemic issues across the city."

He explained, "While we were posting vital information, changes in FDNY policy, and CDC updates, they were posting their next EMS station visit."

Mr. Cook's campaign is, as Mr. Barzilay's did in 2017, demanding pay and benefit parity with Firefighters, who at top salary make about $35,000 more than EMTs who have reached maximum pay. Firefighters also receive more-generous pensions and are entitled to unlimited sick time, while EMTs get just 12 sick days annually.

"For the 12 years I have been on it, the job has been getting worse, and in the last three years of this [union] administration, none of their promises have been kept," Mr. Cook said. "We have spent all of this money on ads and we have been complaining and nothing has changed in three years."

Mr. Barzilay responded by asserting, "They are misguiding and poisoning the minds of our younger members. We have accomplished a lot—changed the FDNY's policy on discipline, we got unlimited sick leave for our WTC 9/11 members, and we got paid family leave."

Raised Union's Profile

He continued, "We have also raised the public profile on our issues about pay parity and filed a federal EEOC complaint, which is the way the Vulcans won their $100 million settlement," referring to the lawsuit by the black fraternal group for firefighters that charged the hiring process for Firefighter was discriminatory.

The union is in the midst of negotiating a contract with the next bargaining session scheduled in early June.

Both candidates believe the city's need to bring in 500 EMTs from around the country during the pandemic helped make the union's case for pay parity to end the exodus of EMTs when they are called from a promotion list for Firefighter.

Earlier this year, the Chief of EMS was among the Fire Department officials who told a City Council hearing that the pay and benefit differences between the two jobs had produced a major shortage in ambulance staffing.

Volume, Response Times Up

Even as the city continued to set records for EMS call volume, a slowing of response times had been exacerbated by the decline in the number of ambulance crews available, they testified.

Administration officials cited the physical limitations of the Queens training facility at Fort Totten that's slated for a multi-million-dollar upgrade, a national shortage of EMTs and Paramedics, the "churn" of 1,200 EMS members over four years from each Firefighter promotion list.

One side-effect of the turnover besides a less-experienced workforce, according to Local 2507 and the officers union, DC 37 Local 3621, has been excessive overtime that can burn out those who remain on the job.


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