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L.A. Rejects Recommended Paramedic Pay Hike

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles city officials announced Wednesday that they have rejected an arbitrator’s recommendations for higher pay and shorter working hours for the city’s paramedic force, prompting union officials to raise the possibility of job actions to resolve a 2-year-old labor dispute.

In a letter drafted after a closed session of the City Council last week, City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie and Fire Chief Donald O. Manning said the city is rejecting proposals by a city-appointed arbitrator to limit the number of hours paramedics can be forced to work and to raise paramedic salaries an estimated 17%.

The city said it will accept a recommendation to award Fire Department paramedics the same vacation benefits earned by firefighters.

The city’s chief negotiator, Royce Menkus, said fact-finder Sara Adler’s recommendation to impose a 36-hour limit on the number of hours a paramedic can be forced to work would worsen, rather than improve, the current overtime problem within the paramedic force.

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Because of recent staffing shortages, paramedics have frequently been required to work two consecutive 24-hour shifts, prompting paramedics in busy areas of the city to complain that they are often too tired to adequately care for patients.

Menkus said the city rejected the 36-hour limit recommended by the fact-finder because it would require the city to call in two paramedics on overtime to fill a 24-hour shift, rather than one.

“The city’s position is that it would increase the amount of forced overtime, rather than decreasing it,” she said.

But union President Fred Hurtado called the city’s position “outrageous.”

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“It seems to me that their unwillingness to recognize the negative effects for paramedics and patients when paramedics are forced to work that many consecutive hours says to me that rather than focusing on the merits of the issue, they’re simply taking a rigid, retaliatory posture,” Hurtado said.

The arbitrator had also recommended correcting what she said is an imbalance between firefighter and paramedic salaries by paying top-level paramedics at a rate comparable to firefighting engineers, a proposal that paramedics believe would require a 9% raise on top of the 8%-over-two-years increase the city has already offered.

Currently, paramedics at those levels earn $37,396, compared to the $44,161 an engineer makes.

But Menkus said the city is rejecting the arbitrator’s recommendation because it would destroy the wage parity she said exists between lower-level paramedics and firefighters. Once the city’s cost-of-living raise takes effect, a journeyman paramedic would earn only about 3% less than a journeyman firefighter, she said.

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Paramedics say the two jobs are not comparable because of the paramedic’s higher level of training and higher workload. Currently, paramedics handle about 80% of the Fire Department’s emergency calls.

Negotiations on the paramedics’ contract, which expired in June, 1985, are set to resume June 2, and Hurtado said the union is polling its membership to determine what action to take if no agreement is reached.

The options include letter-writing campaigns, informational picketing or a work slowdown in which paramedics would refuse to work overtime, Hurtado said. Currently, about 25% of all paramedic work shifts are filled on an overtime basis.

“If the city proves to be intransigent . . . and simply refuses to entertain the recommendations of a neutral arbitrator who heard all the evidence, I’m fearful that our membership is going to be extremely upset,” he said.

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Although the union has historically opposed the idea of a strike because of patient care concerns, Hurtado added, “It is no longer safe to rule that out. We’re going to have to seek direction from our membership.”


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