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EMTs' efforts to form union delayed again

Commissioner not ready to vote on ordinance in light of council's EMS fact-finding request

July 03, 2013
Efforts by county emergency medical technicians to form a union were delayed again as the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, whom the EMTs had hoped would adopt an ordinance allowing any county employee the right to do so at their June 20 meeting, once again didn't vote on the matter.

It had appeared that momentum had been building toward some sort of resolution when the commissioners, in May, agreed to meet in special session to work on an ordinance that recognizes employee rights to collective bargaining. The commissioners, however, said they weren't ready for a vote in light of action earlier in the meeting.

Following the lead of the county council, which brought up the matter to EMS Director John Gott at its June 11 meeting, the commissioners agreed to have Gott seek information regarding ways to improve the county's Emergency Medical Services.

Gott said the council wanted him to research the potential advantages of having a paramedic on staff. It also wanted to explore if there would be any financial advantage to having an outside EMS service take over the county's service.

"This is strictly a fact-finding mission that the council has requested," Gott said.

Councilman Steve Bartels, who was in the audience, said the council's request wasn't because of a concern about the level of service currently provided. In fact, he said, the county's EMS is just as good, "if not better than our surrounding counties." Unfortunately, he noted, its rates, despite having been increased, are still lower than many other services, which makes it difficult to increase the level of service.

Crawford County's EMS currently has a Basic Advanced certification.

While the county would want to ensure that it maintains at least the same level of service, county attorney John E. Colin said there isn't a need to provide any detailed specifications at this point. He suggested the county first inquire if other services would even be interested.

"At that point you may want to enter some discussions with them," he said.

Colin also said that, if discussions progress, the county may want to look at including a provision that current EMS staff be retained, if possible, to which the commissioners agreed.

"I don't know if there are guarantees that an outside service would consider extending them employment ," District 3 Commissioner Jim Schultz said. "I would just want to say for our employees' benefit that I would want to comfort them in knowing that we would try to do that."

Following a brief recess, Cliff Kerce, of the Carpenters Industrial Council, which has repeatedly asked the commissioners to acknowledge, through ordinance, the county EMTs' right to organize, again presented an ordinance for the board's consideration.

Any momentum for an ordinance to be adopted, however, appeared to be halted, at least for the time being, because of the previous discussion.

"I think this issue with the council requesting some bids kind of changes some things a bit," Schultz told Kerce.

"This (the proposed ordinance) doesn't say it has anything to do with the EMS service. It's for everybody," Kerce responded.

He added that, during the recess, some of the EMTs present were asking him if their existing benefits would be protected if the EMS service was outsourced. Kerce said that, if the employees held an election to organize, the benefits would be protected by law.

"So, this is actually a way you can help those guys going into another service," he said, adding that "this would put their fears to bed today, that they would be protected."

Randy Gilmore, president of the board, asked the other two commissioners if there was a motion to approve the ordinance.

When it became clear there wouldn't be one, Kerce asked, "You guys don't want to help these guys in the future?"

"Well, I don't think that's a fair question, Cliff," Schultz said.

Gilmore said, because of the previous discussion, the commissioners need to think about the proposed ordinance some more before voting on it.

"It's been six months," Kerce said, to which Gilmore replied that it hasn't been that long.

The Carpenters Industrial Council first approached the commissioners publicly at their Feb. 28 meeting.

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