Independence's emergency personnel will be soon be organizing into a union.
The decision follows a 51-17 vote by American Medical Response's Independence and South Platte employees to organize as a chapter of EMS Workers United-AFSCME.
Local paramedic Laura Cain said she and the other supporters are celebrating the opportunity to build a formally organized workforce.
“We're eager to get the ball rolling with the contract and get the union running,” said Cain, a member of the union organizing committee.
What follows from the vote is a 10-day waiting period during which either side can file a grievance before the chapter is officially recognized as a union. Once the waiting period has passed, members will elect chapter officers and discuss specific issues to advance as a union.
Cain briefly mentioned a collective bargaining agreement with American Medical Response, but declined to give specifics on what she and other union members would seek as a group.
First, Cain explained, “we have to see ‘OK, what does Adam want? And what does Laura want?'”
Cain said she expects it will result in a better work environment through for, for example, better equipment, additional personnel or enhanced benefits.
Cain said the vote was not prompted by any dissatisfaction with her employer.
“Let me make this clear: this is not and has not ever been about AMR,” she said. Rather, “the big thing is gaining a voice as far as what is best for citizens of Independence and focusing on giving the best possible care to the people.”
Cain said the assembly will fairly represent emergency response personnel in a way that isn't currently happening.
“Sometimes, EMS is put to the side from fire and police, but we're all going to the same calls at the end of the day,” Cain said.
Besides Independence and South Platte, AMR operates in the St. Louis area in Missouri.
Ahead of this week’s union vote, attendees at the Independence Public Safety Services Review Committee talked about the ambulance component of public safety services.
Kirk Stobart, president of Local 781 of the international Association of Fire Fighters, which represents Independence firefighters and EMTs, favors the city taking over ambulance service. He mentioned the impending unionization vote and raised the possibility that AMR might pull out of Independence and other places in Missouri given that no contract exists between the city and the contractor.
"They don't have any legal obligation to provide service," Stobart said.
Frustrations over AMR response times, as Stobart outlined it, seemed to stem from the company giving priority to non-emergency calls – which are easier collect on financially – over emergency calls. The collection rate on emergency calls is relatively low, they said.
Assistant City Manager Larry Kaufman pointed out that the issue has come up before and a few years ago the city's Board of Health recommended sticking with AMR.
No one from AMR was at the meeting, and AMR has not issued a response to the union vote.
Mayor Eileen Weir said elected officials get calls about the quality of AMR's service and said it's frustrating to have to tell citizens that the city has no control over the company's prices or quality of service.
"It's a concern in the community," she said.
Examiner reporter Jeff Fox contributed to this article.