Gold Cross workers vote not to strike, stage protest instead

ST. GEORGE – Unionized paramedics and EMTs in St. George voted Saturday not to strike but rather engage in an informational campaign aimed at alerting the public to what they claim are unfair labor practices on the part of Gold Cross Ambulance.

We looked at it, looked at the impact on the community, and decided it just wasn’t in the community’s best interests to go on strike at this time,” Paramedic Chris Bown said as he held up a sign and picketed with union members and their families at the intersection of River Road and St. George Boulevard Saturday afternoon.

A number of Gold Cross Ambulance employees joined the Utah Teamsters Union last year and entered into negotiations with Salt Lake City-based Gold Cross Ambulance on a number of issues. Employees have claimed they are underpaid, overworked and deal with poor working conditions.

Though talks originally stalled at the end of May, they picked up again in July, only to falter once again over a question of whether or not Gold Cross would sign off on withholding union dues from employee paychecks. It is something company President Mike Moffitt told the union repeatedly Gold Cross would not do.

The union dues issue

July 17 was the last negotiation session, Moffitt said. At the end of the day, around 6 p.m. or so, he said, the union ended talks over the question of the union dues. When that was rejected, they took everything else off the table that had previously been agreed to, Moffitt said.

The matter of dues was reconfigured here and there and resubmitted for negotiations, but it was shot down each time by Gold Cross, he said.

“It was not satisfactory to the company’s desires and we told them that for a year – that we’re not going to do it,” Moffitt said, adding the language attached to the item was broad. “… Further than union dues – assessments, initiation fees, other fees assessed by the union and that language – it’s one of the things we’re uncomfortable with. We’ll not pay the bill for, or be the bill collector for, the union.”

The dues issue was withdrawn by the union in a counterproposal sent to Gold Cross on Thursday, in the “11th hour,” Moffitt said. While dropping the dues issue, the proposal puts forth items previously agreed upon in negotiations before talks tanked again.

Moffitt said the actions of the union have basically reset the negotiation process at this point.

“They’re going to have to go back to the table and negotiate the points again,” he said.

Accusations of bad faith

I’d like people to know Gold Cross is breaking the law,” Spencer Hogue, secretary treasurer for the Teamsters 222, said. He was also among those picketing Saturday afternoon.

In a press release issued prior to the picketing, Hogue wrote the following:

The union has made multiple attempts in the last week to conclude bargaining with the company. The most recent attempt was Thursday July 23rd at which time the union agreed to unconditionally withdraw the one remaining issue the company had both publicly and in negotiations claimed was the hold up for resolution. There are no remaining issues and the company still refuses to conclude bargaining. They are playing games with the health and well-being of the public in St. George.

While picketing, Hogue also accused Gold Cross of improper staffing and changing work conditions on the employees during negotiations and engaging in bad-faith bargaining.

The Teamsters currently have six charges filed against Gold Cross Ambulance with the National Labor Relations Board, with a seventh to be filed Monday.

“We have a contract,” Hogue said. “Everything has been agreed upon and they still refuse to sign it. … The reason we’re out here is they refuse to bargain in good faith.”

Other issues and Gold Cross refutations

A reason the unionized employees decided not to strike were concerns over the staffing Gold Cross would bring in to cover for the striking workers, Bown said. As the fill-in workers were being brought in from Salt Lake City, they wouldn’t be familiar with the area, and that would possibly impact the level of service to the city, he said.

“The staffing plans put forth by the company are insufficient to provide the public the coverage and quality of care they deserve,” Hogue wrote in the press release.

Moffitt said the union had no idea what Gold Cross was going to do. In anticipation of a potential strike, 11 Gold Cross employees from northern Utah came down to make up the shortfall, Moffitt said. Additional ambulances were also brought in.

As for the medics’ knowledge of the area – or lack thereof – Moffitt said many of them were involved in staffing Gold Cross ambulances in St. George during its first few months of operation in 2013 and were already familiar with the area.

“The community is not at jeopardy,” Moffitt said. “We have more than enough people here to do the work.”

Other issues – which appear to have been resolved, yet remain in limbo until negotiations start anew – related to pay and working excessive hours.

Between five and eight paramedics left Gold Cross earlier this year to join the Las Vegas Fire Department, Bown said. They did so because they weren’t able to pay their bills on the wages Gold Cross was paying them, he said.

“We have people that want to stay here, and we need the company’s help to get to a point where they want to stay,” Bown said.

The loss of staff has led to some of the paramedics taking on additional shifts to cover for the staffing shortage, Bown said.

“It’s been an impact to our service and staffing levels,” he said.

Moffitt called the pay issue another smokescreen put up by the union.

“Just like any other business, there’s turnover,” Moffitt said. “The Las Vegas Fire Department had a test and were hiring this spring, and we had five guys that were lucky enough to get jobs down there. Now, those guys did not go to Las Vegas for any other reason than they wanted to go to Las Vegas to become firefighters. … They did not go down there because we didn’t pay them an extra dollar an hour. … They went because they wanted to go into fire service.”

Losing the paramedics to Las Vegas has caused staffing issues, Moffitt said, but the company is bringing on new hires and should be back to full staff by the end of the summer.

As to the issue of people working extra hours to cover the shortage, Moffitt said, the company has never forced overtime. Those who took it on did so because they wanted to – it was voluntary. Gold Cross doesn’t like to see people work more than 36 hours due to safety concerns, he said.

Employees who work 12- to 24-hour shifts are also able to bid on which shifts they want based on seniority, Moffitt said.

“It’s hard to complain about a job you took with both eyes opens,” he said.

Moving forward

This is just the beginning,” Bown said.

Both Bown and Hogue said the union will continue to picket, hand out fliers outlining their grievances with Gold Cross, and utilize the media until the company comes back to the table.

For the immediate future, Moffitt said, the additional ambulances and staff will be in St. George for at least the next three or four days. Service will continue undisturbed, as it did when Gold Cross had to start operations early in the wake of Dixie Ambulance Service’s early closure in 2013.

“We didn’t drop the ball then; we don’t intent to drop it now,” Moffitt said.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

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11 Comments

  • fun bag July 25, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    if the poor crybabies don’t like the pay they should just find another job…

    • ryjen74 July 28, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      I could not agree more.

  • beentheredonethat July 26, 2015 at 5:07 am

    The article stated they felt ot was in the communities best interest? NO. It’s in THEIR best interest! They would be replaced…….and rightfuly so.

    • ryjen74 July 28, 2015 at 10:35 pm

      They don’t care about the community. If they didn’t they would go about things in a different way. All they have done is hurt this community with their lies and bad mouthing the company they work for. I think they should all fired.

  • Free Parking July 26, 2015 at 8:03 am

    LOL… Yeah like they really care about the community… Ha ha ha ha ha. LOL.!

    • ryjen74 July 28, 2015 at 10:45 pm

      Many dedicated and thankful paramedics came from Salt Lake to cover theim and the community they are suppose to serve. All of their threats and tantrums aren’t working. I hope they lose their job after bad mouthing Gold Cross and the coworkers who came down to serve their community. It hope all the hospitals , fire department and any other medical related job won’t hire the after what they have done.

  • 42214 July 26, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Some things you do on the cheap and some things you don’t. EMTs and first responders aren’t minimum wage flunkies. They didn’t strike but merely engage in a informational campaign and you act like they selfishly turned their backs on the community. Some seem to think they should say thanks for the job and I’ll do whatever you say. You get what you pay for. Remember that if you or a loved one needs help in a life threatening situation. Too many people in this town think fine dining is an all you can eat buffet. There is more to life than being cheap.

    • sagemoon July 27, 2015 at 9:26 am

      I have to agree with you.

  • DRT July 26, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    I applaud the Gold Cross EMERGENCY RESPONSE MEDICS for not striking! I’m certain that they realized the fastest way to turn John Q. Public against them, would be for them to strike.
    Unfortunately though, it appears that this private ambulance company is going to just go on, ripping off both their employees and their patients. The fees this outfit charges are totally outrageous! Of course, so is everything else in the medical field, so I suppose expecting anything else from this outfit is unrealistic.
    Let’s just remember who it was that stuffed this company down our throats when it come election time.

    • 42214 July 26, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      Paramedics should be fulltime fire personnel and ambulances merely transport. If the city is too cheap do do that, this is what we get stuck with.

    • fun bag July 26, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      i’m assuming it was the good-ol-boy local republican politicians,,,wild guess..

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