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Austin's medics ask the city for raises, citing 'unbearably difficult and dangerous' work conditions

An ambulance leaves Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
An ambulance leaves Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin.

Staff members of Austin's Emergency Medical Services are calling for higher wages amid pandemic-related burnout and staffing shortages.

For the first time in four years, the Austin EMS Association, the organization that represents the medics of Austin-Travis County EMS, asked city officials to bump up starting hourly pay for EMTs and medics from $19.56 to $27. The city came back offering a 14 cent raise, a move the union calls "a slap in the face."

Selena Xie, president of Austin EMS Association, said the union felt no appreciation from the city regarding everything that has happened since it last renegotiated pay, including "a pandemic, an ice storm and an explosion of expensive housing costs in Austin."

Xie said current wages do not allow Austin EMS to attract and retain enough employees, especially when other EMT agencies are beating them out by offering competitive salaries, bonuses and other benefits.

"As we have more and more emergencies in this city because of population and violence, we're going to need this [raise] more than ever," Xie said. "I think it's really important that we start catching up before we fall too far behind. We're already 25% short-staffed and it's only going to get worse until we really improve our wages."   

Xie said more medics have left Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services at this point than at any other time in history, and those who have stayed are overworked. Twenty-six medics have already quit this year. For comparison, Xie said at this rate, the exodus of workers will double the number of people who left in 2020 and 2021.

Medics are feeling the brunt of these departures, with some having to work 48 hours of overtime a month on top of their regular duties.

Austin EMS Association says its highest priorities are increasing pay and reducing additional work obligations.

The city said it valued the medics, but was unable to meet the union's request.

"Our total package was a 51% increase in new money compared to the last contract they approved (in 2018)," a spokesperson said in a statement.

The city said the "unprecedented" offer would have helped reduce vacancies and that Austin paramedics are "amongst the highest paid in the nation by the end of their career."

The union plans to bring in a federal mediator to continue talks with the city.

Dani Matias is a former producer and fill-in host for KUT's Morning Edition show.
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