Dozens of American Medical Response paramedics and EMTs mustered outside the company’s Cottage Street headquarters early Monday morning to protest workplace issues including what union representatives call “not livable” wages.
Most were clad in red as a show of unity, employees said. While the protest was extremely public, most workers, including union stewards, were reluctant to speak to a reporter, citing fears for their jobs.
“Right now the wages are not livable, they’re barely above minimum wage,” said one union representative who said his name was Colt. “And we’re saving lives every single day in the city of Springfield.”
He declined to be specific about their hourly or annual pay rates. Other employees privately said many are paid an average of less than $14 an hour. (According to Paramedic Training Spot, the average hourly EMT pay in Springfield based on a 40-hour work week is $15.54 and paramedics earn on average $19.70.)
Union representatives said they mounted a similar public protest three years ago amid contract negotiations over wages and other gripes, but carried signs.
“It was considered picketing because we had signs, so we got a cease and desist letter from the company,” Colt said.
This time around, they lost the signs but stood on Cottage Street, drawing honks of support from passing motorists. Their contract is up for renewal in June, union representatives said.
The Republican/MassLive.com has a request pending for comment from AMR officials.
While there is a shortage of paramedics across the state, Colt said there is a particular squeeze in Springfield because of high 911 call demands, plus employees jumping ship to join other ambulance companies that pay higher wages.
Employees said both their workplace satisfaction and the quality of service to the city took a dive when AMR bought rival MedCare in January, thus absorbing its employees and its transfer contract with Baystate Medical Center.
Ambulance transfers get patients where they need to go, for instance, shuttling between varying Baystate facilities, a hospital spokeswoman said in January following the merger.
AMR employees said response times to 911 calls have suffered since, morale is down, burnout is up and new EMTs received far less training on how to handle emergency calls. The company has begun offering EMTs $50 “incentives” to show up for their shifts and installed a popcorn machine at the office as a peace offering, according to one worker.
This is a developing story that will be updated with more information as it becomes available.