Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County - EMS Union Face Off
County refusing to back off pay cut

In view at the negotiating table are clockwise: Lance Hill-Union negotiator, back to camera and looking at his notes; Aaron Johns - Union; Attorney and county negotiator, Mike Grogan; Asst. County Manger, Lisa Roberts; EMS Director Rusty Noah; Michele Crummit, County HR Director.

For the first time in six months, yesterday afternoon at 3 PM, the County EMS paramedics, represented by Lance Hill and the County, represented by outside council, Mike Grogan, faced off at the negotiating table. After a series of charges and counter charges, the sides got down to brass tacks.

Mr. Grogan got right to it:  "It's taken us about six months to get back to the table. We've asked for proposals and you folks have declined to do so."

Mr. Hill responded:  "My biggest question is the proposal package we were handed at the November 3rd meeting."

Mr. Hill said that an ultimatum came with the County's proposal. If the Union did not consider the County's package, nothing else would be considered.

Mr. Grogan said, he didn't believe there were any ultimatums.

Union member Chris Bethea jumped in, saying there were ultimatums. "That's almost word for word what you told me, face to face, in that last meeting."

Mr. Grogan: "Well, I'd like to see your minutes of the meeting."

Mr. Bethea responded that it was an ultimatum short and sweet. "You never mentioned that it was going to be presented to the County Commissioners. You asked us if we wanted to go to impasse."

Mr. Grogan replied: "You said no and I rejected your 7% proposal."

Interfacility transport has been a bugaboo with Columbia County for years. In forward thinking counties it is a well-known fact that interfacility transport is a major profit center and enables 911-EMS to run without subsidies from the taxpayers.

In Columbia County, it is estimated that interfacility transport can generate enough income to pay for both 911-EMS and a major portion of the fire assessment, saving the working families of Columbia County a lot of money.

Typical of Columbia County, the good ol' boys have decided to give this profit center away to a private company that has given them gifts.

Interfacility transport - "We are proposing it now."

According to Mr. Hill the Union brought up interfacility transport in 2006 and was turned down cold.

Mr. Hill said, "Now we are bringing it up again."

There was talk about an advertisement put in a local edition of the Advertiser by the Union.

Mr. Grogan accused the Union of doing an end run around the negotiating table and said that this was a blatant attempt to "negotiate directly with the commissioners."

Mr. Grogan told the Union, "We still haven't received a proposal to this day."

Manly C. Bolin, 1st District Vice President of the Union, said, "We are proposing it now."

Mr. Grogan asked, "Where's the proposal?"

Both parties agreed that the Union proposal could have been presented six months before.

• A fully qualified Paramedic beginning in Columbia County earns $33,000 a year.
• A fully qualified Paramedic beginning in Alachua County earns $46,000 a year.
The County Commission is looking to cut the annual pay of the County's Paramedics.

Mr. Grogan said, "It's pretty hard for us to discuss it before we get a proposal."

Mr. Bolin: "We are proposing it now... would you consider a proposal?"

Mr. Grogan answered, "You can give us proposals whenever you want and I'll look at them with good faith -- with open mind."

Mr. Bolin said, "OK. That's all we're asking."

Mr. Grogan opined that if the Union needed 30 days they had it.

Back to the status quo

Mr. Hill:  "We are agreeing to remove all past articles [suggested changes] including the 7% raise that was asked for and that I thought was already removed."

Mr. Hill asked for a current status quo contract for a three year term, with yearly re-openers due to continuing changes with the merger between the EMS Dept. and the Fire Dept.

Mr. Grogan: "I am trying to understand this proposal..."

Mr. Hill interjected, "All proposals off the table and back to a status quo, except for the interfacility transport."

Mr. Grogan: "OK."

One final question before intermission

Mr. Bolin: "We feel that since they [the policies] are mentioned in management rights they are part of the contract. Our question to the management team is do you agree with us or do you disagree?

Mr. Grogan answered, "We'll be back in 20 minutes."

20 minutes later -
Who is the chief negotiator? What is the hold up?

With everyone back to the table, Mr. Grogan said, "We are going to take your proposals back for a review with our complete team and that we are asking if you would be available to meet Tuesday, May 17, 3 PM?"

Mr. Hill to Mr. Grogan: I have a question for you. You've made it very clear you are the chief negotiator here for the County – correct?

Mr. Grogan: Yes.

Mr. Hill: With that power - you have the power and capability to make decisions for the County?

Mr. Grogan: Absolutely.

Mr. Hill: Is the whole purpose of these meetings not to make a tentative agreement?

Mr. Grogan: It's to reach a complete collective bargaining agreement in good faith.

Mr. Hill: I'm trying to figure out what the holdup is today.

Mr. Grogan: The holdup is you. You haven't given us a proposal in six months. You gave one to me today. I got it for the first time today. I'm going to go back -- and it's not even a proposal -- it's a proposal to make a proposal in 30 days. You can go ahead and make a proposal today if you want to.

Mr. Hill: The status quo contract is the proposal that's on the table -- I haven't gotten a yes or no.

Here comes the overtime

Fact: EMS-Paramedics are not like other County Employees.

• Paramedics work 24 hr days.
That is three 8hr consecutive shifts

• Paramedics work a mandatory 48 hrs a week, except that on every third week, when they are required to work 72 hrs.

• A Paramedic can get stuck on a call and have almost no way to reclaim that time because of the scheduling.

• The County has recognized that EMS-Paramedics are not like other County employees in their collective bargaining agreement.

Mr. Grogan: Right. So again you're rejecting our proposals for any cost saving on the calculation of overtime.

Mr. Hill: You made it very clear that you want to treat us like other County employees. Can you show me a County employee that takes a pay cut for taking a sick or vacation day?

Mr. Grogan:  What do you mean a pay cut?

Mr. Hill explained that when a County employee takes a sick or vacation day, it doesn't affect their yearend salary. He said that with the County's proposal the EMS workers would be losing pay equivalent up to a 10% annual reduction in pay.

Mr. Hill: No other department in Columbia County is taking pay cuts. If you show me another department that's taking pay cuts, we are willing to look at that and we will take whatever percentage cut they are taking -- not our sick and vacation time.

Mr. Grogan: OK. All I am saying is you asked for an example, and they never had it in the first place. You have it. We are asking you to give up something. That's clear. Our proposal was an adjustment, because it would save the County some money.

The County's proposal of reducing EMS-Paramedic overtime would save the county between $33,0000 and $35,000 a year. The County budget is over $40,000,000.

Mr. Hill: By cutting our pay.

Mr. Grogan: Nope – well.

Mr. Hill: Yes

Mr. Grogan: Net effect -- yes.

Mr. Hill: Yes. 100% cutting into our salary. And no other department in the County is being asked for that.

Mr. Grogan: You have pointed out and I agree with you it would represent a net decrease in pay, if we changed the calculation.

Mr. Grogan: If there is any other information or documentation that you want to give to us, even before the 30 days are up, why you think your position has merit, I'll be glad to review it. You haven't shown any willingness to compromise on the calculation of any part of this. You haven't met me halfway -- a third of the way.

Aaron Johns: "We just said that if the County is going to make a pay cut mandatory for every other County employee, we are also willing to do so.

Mr. Grogan:  You're already treated differently than every other County employee in the calculation of overtime. Our proposal would make it consistent with the calculation of overtime with other County employees.

Unknown Speaker: And are we going to work 8 to 5?

Mr. Grogan: (pause) our discussion is...

Unknown Speaker: There you go.


Mr. Grogan:  We'll see you on the 17th.

correction: photo / unknown union speaker to Aaron Johns

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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