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Austin-Travis County EMS, City OK new raises, contract for medical first responders

Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

Austin-Travis County’s emergency medical personnel are getting a raise. The City of Austin reached a deal with EMS negotiators late last month, and the Austin City Council Thursday unanimously approved the one-year contract with medics.

The deal is a stopgap, but it does address pay inequity issues EMS’ union has been fighting for since the start of the pandemic. EMS employees could see raises of anywhere from 4% to 11%, depending on their position.

Emergency medical technicians and higher-ranked paramedics have been run ragged since the start of COVID-19, and that’s led to high turnover. Austin-Travis County EMS Association President Selena Xie told KUT ahead of the Thursday vote that EMS has seen historic attrition this year.

"We kind of just ended up settling on this stopgap contract just for a year," she said. "It really just kind of stops the bleeding. It slows our staffing crisis, but that's all we could really agree to right now, and we knew we needed some action quickly."

Xie said so far 60 employees have left ATC-EMS in 2022, compared to the previous record-high last year of 57. The deal aims to retain newer employees by boosting junior-ranking EMTs’ pay up to $22 an hour. Higher-ranking paramedics get an increase to $30 an hour.

Members of the EMS Association approved the tentative deal with the city earlier this week after months of sometimes heated back-and-forth with the city on the pay increase.

Ahead of the vote, Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter recognized that back-and-forth, saying she hoped negotiations in the year ahead would build upon the wage increases in the short-term contract.

“I think this is a really important next step for us as we work with our EMS Association, but it is just a next step," Alter said. "We need to make sure that when we move forward with the longer contract that we really keep the bigger picture about how important EMS is to our community and our ability to provide public safety.”

The deal doesn't restructure the retirement system for paramedics. Austin police and fire department employees vest at 25 years of service, while EMS employees have to have been serving 30 years on ambulance shifts and be at least 62. Xie said some more junior-ranking employees have left this year for fire departments in Travis County.

"[They] just don't see how this could possibly be a career if they have to do it for 30 years," she said. "I mean, we have people leaving for fire departments ... [because] it's much more sustainable. You're working a lot less when you're on shift, and the retirement is just much better."

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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