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Paramedic dispute grows

A looming strike by American Medical Response paramedics and emergency medical technicians may begin before the National Labor Relations Board has a chance to intervene in the conflict between the company and the employee union.

The brewing labor dispute between Service Employees International Union 1107 and AMR became public Wednesday when Las Vegas and Clark County officials urged the two parties to avert a strike planned to begin Nov. 28. Representatives for the two sides, who haven’t even begun contract negotiations because they’ve locked horns over accusations of unfair labor practices, had not spoken to each other as of Thursday afternoon, said Ed Burke, executive director of SEIU Local 1107.

“We don’t want the strike,” Burke said. “We clearly are waiting for them.”

AMR, under contract with the city of Las Vegas and Clark County, is responsible for 60 percent of the patient transports in those areas.

In August, SEIU Local 1107 filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the NLRB claiming that AMR had removed an employee suggestion box from its Las Vegas ready room, denied union representatives access to its facility and implemented a new attendance and punctuality policy without giving the union 30 days notice.

On Oct. 14, the union filed another complaint claiming that AMR had violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to bargain with its sister union, the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics, or SEIU Local 5000.

It’s now likely that a Dec. 2 hearing scheduled by the National Labor Relations Board to hear the August complaint will be postponed because of the additional complaints that have been filed by both sides.

“If there is any merit to these cases, we could try them all at the same time,” said Stephen Wamser, deputy regional attorney for the NLRB’s Region 28 in Las Vegas. “But we don’t know if that will happen.”

The contract between AMR and its paramedics and emergency medical technicians expired Oct. 31.

AMR, the Las Vegas Valley’s largest provider of ambulance services, also has labor complaints pending against SEIU Local 1107. In October, the company claimed that the union had refused to bargain collectively with its officials.

AMR also said it’s unclear which labor union represents its emergency services employees. Until that is resolved, the ambulance provider will not go to the table, AMR officials said.

“The issues have not been laid out on the table yet,” said Jason Sorrick, AMR’s director of government affairs. “We don’t know what they want. We’re waiting for them to vote on a union.”

Burke said the SEIU represents AMR paramedics and EMTs. He said SEIU Local 1107 joined forces with SEIU Local 5000, also called the IAEP, in an effort to smooth out labor negotiations with the company.

“We thought this was a logical move to strengthen the process since Local 5000 deals with AMR across the country,” Burke said. “They deal with this company all the time. If anything, it brings uniformity and familiarity within the industry.”

With both AMR and SEIU entrenched in a dispute that may lead to a disruption of vital services, Clark County and Las Vegas officials are forming a strike contingency plan.

“Even if there’s a strike, the city of Las Vegas is well-prepared,” said Mayor Oscar Goodman.

Las Vegas Fire Chief Greg Gammon said his department has 41 medical units spread throughout the city. The Las Vegas Fire Department has 198 paramedics, 248 intermediate EMTs and 86 EMTs. Fire department personnel are trained as both firefighters and emergency medical responders, he said.

Gammon said he doesn’t expect a strike to increase response times: “We’re prepared for it.”

Goodman and Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid acted as intermediaries between AMR and the SEIU Wednesday.

“I’m not sure how much good we did,” Goodman said, noting that attorneys had advised against direct contact between the groups because of unfair labor practices complaints. But he said it was promising that “we had them in the same building.”

The Clark County Fire Department also has paramedic units available.

AMR representatives have said if a strike occurs, it may hire replacement paramedics from out of state. It would ask the Southern Nevada Health District, the agency that regulates emergency medical services in Clark County, to approve an emergency declaration so that certain requirements for replacement paramedics are waived.

Both Reid and Goodman had some concerns with AMR’s idea of bringing in emergency services personnel from different states. Some AMR Paramedics were also uneasy.

Alejandro Ocampo, a paramedic who’s worked in Las Vegas for 12 years of his career, said he’s concerned the plan to hire replacements could lead to delays in care.

“They wouldn’t be familiar with the area,” Ocampo said. “They wouldn’t know shortcuts or the flow of traffic over the course of the day.”

If a strike occurs, local hospital officials said they would be prepared. At Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, ambulances average about 23 minutes between the time paramedics sign in on a computer in triage until they’ve transferred the patient to the hospital. Sunrise Health System officials don’t expect a strike to increase that.

“Sunrise Health has been focused on reducing drop-off times in our emergency departments in the event of a strike,” said Ashlee Seymour, a Sunrise Health spokeswoman.

Writer Alan Choate contributed to this report. Contact reporter Annette Wells at awells@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

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