Health Care

Independence EMS union gets partial victory in dispute with American Medical Response

The Independence and South Platte emergency medical services union will get some of what it has asked for in its long-running contract dispute with American Medical Response. But the bulk of the fight still lies ahead.

Members of the EMS Workers United-Local 1812, which represents emergency medical technicians, paramedics and dispatchers, have been circulating petitions to require Colorado-based AMR to regularly report employee turnover data to Independence officials.

They planned to present the petitions to the Independence City Council at its meeting Monday.

But in a brief phone interview Thursday, AMR spokeswoman Kim Warth said the company has already reached an agreement with the city to share the information.

“We have been in communications with the health department and we’re working with them on how to format the turnover data,” Warth said. “They’re going to begin presenting it to the emergency services committee starting in June.”

Independence city manager Zach Walker confirmed the agreement in an emailed statement.

“AMR is a private company that is permitted by the city to deliver ambulance service in Independence,” Walker said. “Oversight of the permit involves routine monitoring of response times and patient outcomes to ensure a safe and reliable service.

“Beginning in June, AMR has agreed to provide monthly employee retention metrics to the city. Although employee retention is not directly related to the city’s permit or service delivery, the city was happy to request the additional information in order to improve transparency for the emergency response community and the public.”

Warth said the turnover data will be presented monthly at meetings of the emergency services committee, which includes representatives of the Independence police, fire, AMR and Centerpoint Medical Center.

The committee meets every second Thursday. Robert Mills, a member of the EMS Workers United-Local 1812 bargaining team, said he was at the May meeting Thursday morning and no mention was made of the new data-sharing agreement.

But he said it was a positive development.

“We’ve been trying to appeal to the city to do this for two and a half years now and perhaps we finally have gotten through,” Mills said. “To tell you the truth, I think they still don’t really want to talk about it, I would guess, but maybe this time we’ve brought it up to enough people.”

The question of AMR’s employee turnover level has been a point of contention within the larger contract dispute over pay and working conditions. Union representatives have estimated the annual turnover rate at about 20 percent, while AMR representatives have placed it much lower.

Mills said the data-sharing agreement should shed light on the numbers, as long as the data that AMR provides to the city is detailed enough. Warth said AMR and the Independence Health Department are still in talks about how to publicly provide detailed data without revealing individual employee information that is protected by privacy laws.

Warth also said there’s been no major breakthroughs in the larger contract discussions.

Emergency services workers in Independence and South Platte voted to unionize about two years ago and the contract impasse has been ongoing for more than a year.

Mills said the union and AMR have agreed to bring a third-party mediator into the contract talks. They had their first mediation session in April and another is scheduled for late June.

In the meantime, Mills said the union plans to push forward with its petition presentation Monday.

“(There are) two more pieces to our appeal to the city on that,” Mills said. “It’s not just the data but also what are the effects of that elevated turnover and what steps AMR is taking to rectify turnover.”

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso