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    Default Polk County Florida Paramedics will vote on Union

    Lakeland Ledger OnLine

    Published Wednesday, April 6, 2005

    Paramedics in Polk County Will Vote on Unionization This Week
    Those who wish to join cite competitive pay, health-care costs as concerns.

    By Dana Willhoit
    The Ledger

    BARTOW -- Polk County paramedics will cast their votes Thursday and Friday to decide whether they want to join a growing trend towards unionization among local government employees.

    About 173 paramedics will vote on joining the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.

    It's a move that county managers oppose, as they have other unionization attempts.

    But pro-union paramedics say they're worried about the future of their agency and about maintaining competitive pay.

    Last week, Public Safety Director Larry Alexander retired, and he has been replaced by interim Director David Cash. Current EMT Director Ray Chatlos has been with Polk County for 31 years, and his current plan could allow him to retire in four years.

    And county officials are debating whether the supervision of the Public Safety Department, which includes Polk County Fire and EMS, should be taken over by the sheriff's office.

    "We've got this whole cloud hanging over us," paramedic Bryan Hamrick said. "We're wondering what's going to happen to us? How are we going to be dealt with?"

    One of the main union organizers, Hamrick said he wants to make it clear that the movement to form a union is not an attack on management. "This is about preparing for our future," he said.

    In February, paramedics started a new pay plan that guarantees a 3.5 percent raise each year in addition to any cost-of-living allowance, but Hamrick said pay is still not competitive with other public safety agencies. A new Polk County paramedic starts at $10.12 an hour.

    In addition to low pay, Hamrick said, employees are having to pay more every year for their family's health coverage.

    Paramedics work 24-hour shifts and their average yearly salary is about $35,000, according to Chatlos.

    With satisfactory job reviews, at the top end of their pay scale paramedics can earn $52,632.

    Chatlos disagrees with the move toward forming a union.

    "They have every right to. I just don't think they need to," he said. "I believe we can face our challenges without a third-party influence."

    He said paramedic salaries are competitive with other agencies.

    And regarding concerns about the future of the department, he said whoever is chosen will treat the employees fairly.

    Lakeland police officers formed a union in 2002, followed by their sergeants and lieutenants in 2004.

    The Lakeland fire department voted to form a union in 2004 and is currently negotiating a contract with the city.

    The Polk County Fire Department has a union, but Polk County Sheriff's deputies do not.

    Dana Willhoit can be reached at dana.willhoit@theledger.com or 863-802-7550.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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    Lakeland Ledger

    Polk Paramedics Vote to Unionize

    By Gabrielle Finley
    The Ledger

    BARTOW -- Polk County paramedics Friday voted to unionize and join the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.

    Out of 159 eligible voters, 80 voted for and 67 voted against the union, said Polk County EMS Director Ray Chatlos.

    Twelve paramedics did not cast a ballot.

    The county has 15 days to challenge the vote, said paramedic Bryan Hamrick, a union organizer.

    If there are no challenges, the union will represent nearly 200 Polk County EMTs and paramedics, according to an International Association of EMTs and Paramedics news release.

    Low pay, health benefits and the possibility of the Polk County Sheriff's Office taking control of Polk County Fire and EMS service had local paramedics concerned.

    Now that paramedics and EMTs have backed the union, nominating and electing the union's executive board is the next move, Hamrick said.

    He's already starting to get phone calls for nominations.

    "My phone's been ringing off the hook for the past day and a half," he said.

    Ultimately, Hamrick said the union will work out a new contract with the county, something he said will begin to bring stability to the workplace.

    Chatlos, Polk's EMS director for 31 years, opposed unionization, but he said he respects the paramedics' decision.

    "We'll work in good faith with the organization when the contract is signed.

    "Management's going to do their jobs, and the employees are going to do their jobs," he added.

    The paramedics join members of several other local public safety agencies who have decided to unionize.

    Lakeland police officers formed a union in 2002, followed by their sergeants and lieutenants in 2004.

    The Lakeland Fire Department voted to form a union in 2004 and is negotiating a contract with the city.

    The Polk County Fire Department has a union, but Polk sheriff's deputies do not.

    Gabrielle Finley can be reached at gabrielle.finley@theledger.com or 863-802-7590.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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