Pittsburgh paramedics vote today on contract

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Pittsburgh's paramedics will vote today on a contract proposal and, if they reject it, will give union leaders the authorization to call a strike, a union leader said.

The medics have been working without a contract since the last agreement expired in December 2010. Neither side has discussed the talks, believed to have been especially thorny because of the possibility of shifting some of the medics' rescue responsibilities to the fire bureau.

Anthony Weinmann, president of Local 1 of the Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics, said the voting will take place all day today and the votes will be counted tonight.

Mr. Weinmann denied to provide details of the proposal or to say whether the leadership recommended ratification. However, he said members will vote on a proposal and, if the offer is rejected, leadership will have the authorization to call a strike.

That does not necessarily mean that a strike will occur, Mr. Weinmann said.

Asked to confirm the contract vote and provide details, Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said any information would have to come from the union.

The past two years have been difficult for the 180-member Emergency Medical Services bureau.

Some paramedics and supervisors were criticized by city public safety director Michael Huss for not doing to enough to get through snow-choked streets to reach Curtis Mitchell, a Hazelwood man who died during the 2010 blizzard after he and his girlfriend made repeated 911 calls seeking help for his abdominal pain. The city Sept. 18 announced that it had settled a lawsuit filed by Mr. Mitchell's children.

Paramedics also have faced jurisdictional challenges. According to an annual progress report that state-appointed financial overseers provided last year, contract talks have included the issues of increasing cooperation with the fire bureau through coordinated training and increasing the fire bureau's role in rescue work.

The city's 3-year-old amended financial recovery plan "directs the city to build rescue capacity" in the fire bureau, "which has more staff available than EMS on a per-shift basis and more locations from which staff can be deployed quickly." The medics were in the middle of the last contact when the amended recovery plan was adopted, so this represents the city's first opportunity to negotiate changes in rescue services.

The fire bureau already has been taking steps to evolve into an "all hazards" department, and that includes more medical- and rescue-type work. In recent years, for example, firefighters have been trained in vehicle extrication, swift-water rescue and emergency medical care. Also, since the 2010 blizzard, the city has increased the use of fire trucks on medical calls.

Despite its challenges, the EMS bureau has been lauded for its work. Paramedics over the past year set a city record for the resuscitation of patients in cardiac arrest.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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