The long-simmering issue of pay parity for the Emergency Medical Service workforce with other first-responders boiled over in a closed-door budget briefing Mayor de Blasio gave to City Council Members Jan. 16, The Chief-Leader has learned.
At issue is the de Blasio administration's assumption that it has established a collective-bargaining pattern of granting slightly more than a two-percent annual wage increase for the municipal workforce, including members of District Council 37’s Local 2507, representing EMS workers, and Local 3621, which represents EMS officers.
Claim Race, Gender Bias
Both unions are suing the city for race- and gender-based pay discrimination because they claim their rank and files are primarily made up of people of color and women whose pay is tens of thousand of dollars below that of the other uniformed services. The most-commonly cited disparity is that of EMS workers and Firefighters. After 5½ years, maximum EMS pay is $50,604, compared to a Firefighter maximum of $85,292.
Similar gaps exist for EMS with the NYPD, the Correction Department and the Department of Sanitation.
The firefighting side of the FDNY is 78 percent white and over 99 percent male. By contrast, the EMS ranks are 46 percent white, 28 percent Hispanic, 21 percent black and 5 percent Asian. Close to a third of those workers are female.
In a City Hall interview, Council Member I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Civil Service and Labor Committee, said that he confronted the Mayor during the budget briefing about the administration’s insistence on holding to the bargaining pattern for the EMS workforce, which Mr. Miller asserted would perpetuate an injustice.
‘Get Beyond Pattern’
“It just comes down to how do we get to pay equity as it pertains to the FDNY EMS workforce if in effect everybody is hooked into this pattern,” he said. “We have to make sure we are really committed to pay equity and get beyond the pattern.”
Laura Feyer, a spokeswoman for the Mayor, said, "The work of our Emergency Medical Services professionals is crucial to the safety of New Yorkers and we are proud of all that they do. As we have in the past, we will work with the union to reach a deal that is fair for both their members and New York City taxpayers."
In his outline of the preliminary fiscal 2021 budget, Mr. de Blasio told reporters he took some pride in the fact that 80 percent of the city workforce was under contract or had a tentative deal pending ratification. As a consequence, he said he was “confident” his projected budget now “accounted for all labor costs going forward because we’ve established the patterns necessary to project all our labor costs and to fully fund them.”
Last year, when asked to justify the pay disparity between EMS workers and firefighters, he said that while he had “a deep, deep respect” for the EMS, their “work is different.”
EMS union officials were outraged by that comment, saying it discounted the risks their members faced as the volume of emergency medical calls continued to climb.
Assaults Also Rising
They cited an increase in workplace assaults on their members, said many members believe they need to wear bullet-proof vests, and pointed to the murder in 2017 of EMT Yadira Arroyo, a 44-year-old mother of five. After 14 years on the job. Ms. Arroyo’s base salary was just $48,153 a year and she reportedly worked as much overtime as she could to support her family.
Those officials have long complained that the vast pay disparity spurs their members to stay just the minimum two-year period and then try to get “promoted” to Firefighter jobs by passing a special exam for the latter job that gives them hiring preference over the general public.
As a consequence, according to the City Council, close to 1,000 EMS members have left the job over the last 12 months, with 80 percent of new hires leaving within four years. According to emergency-medicine research, it takes roughly six years to master the position.
In the past, the de Blasio administration estimated it would cost $450 million a year to give EMS workers parity. Union sources said they have their first bargaining session scheduled for Feb. 18.
Pattern Tends to Bind
Historically, New York City municipal unions' contract negotiations, have been governed by the pattern bargaining, in which the first significant wage deal becomes a template for those that follow.
In the current round of contract deals, the pattern for raises was set at just above two percent per year, with slight variations, by the deals reached by the de Blasio administration with District Council 37 in July 2018 and then with the United Federation of Teachers that October.
In December, the de Blasio administration cut a deal with a coalition of eight uniformed unions—two of them representing NYPD Lieutenants and those in the ranks of Captain and higher and another for fire officers—for a 36-month contract providing 7.95 percent in compounded raises.
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