A 14-cent raise. Are you kidding?
Austin, Texas, EMTs and paramedics have every right to be frustrated with the city’s salary increase offer
The adage “something is better than nothing” is not true in every situation, and it is certainly not true for EMS pay increases. The Austin (Texas) EMS Association has every right to be frustrated and discouraged after the city offered a 14-cent per hour pay raise for the city’s EMTs and paramedics. A 14-cent hourly raise is just under a $300 annual increase, a negligible amount that, after taxes, will rapidly disappear into the gas tank or grocery bill for most EMS providers.
Since the onset of the pandemic more than two years ago, we have seen countless examples of elected officials praising the tireless efforts of EMTs and paramedics to care for the sick and injured. Throughout incredible challenges – from civil unrest to natural disasters – EMS shows up. We have heard the tributes and proclamations claiming support and appreciation, but when given the chance to walk the talk, the City of Austin fell short – as they might say in Texas, “all hat and no cattle.”
For years, recruitment and retention have been the most pressing problems facing the EMS profession. Services everywhere report dire staffing levels, dwindling numbers of applicants, and annual turnover rates of 20% or more. Increasing pay isn’t the only way to improve retention, but it should be high on the list. EMS employers looking for lateral transfers – recruiting experienced EMTs and paramedics away from their current employer – start their pitch with above-average pay.
Selena Xie, president, Austin EMS Association, told KVUE the department is already “25% down” on personnel. “A lot of people voiced extreme frustration and that many people want to quit because of the disrespect shown today,” Xie said. It seems likely the city’s 14-cent raise offer may have the unintended impact of driving some of their providers to search job listings.
The pay negotiations in Austin are the first since 2018. The EMS Association asked for a living wage, specifically seeking out an increase of base pay from $19 per hour to $27 per hour. The MTI Living Wage calculator for Travis County makes it clear that for most workers, especially working parents, anything under $20 per hour is unlikely to be a livable wage. As I have previously argued, EMTs and paramedics need to be audacious and demand a thriving wage in return for their dedication to the community and caring for others.
Finally, do not let local media and decision-makers fall into the trap of making comparisons that are not apples to apples. The end of the KVUE news video ends with comparing average EMT salaries in Austin, Dallas, Houston and nationally. Service models, work conditions and living costs are all local. It is merely interesting to know the average pay for an EMT in Houston when negotiating pay for EMTs in Austin. Average pay from internet job sites or the Bureau of Labor Statistics should not be used to set local pay ranges.
Before elected officials will be taken seriously by the city’s EMTs and paramedics, they need to understand and show respect for the challenge of providing out-of-hospital healthcare and repair severely damaged relationships with EMS association leaders. Until they are truly ready to “walk the talk,” their penny-pinching approach will continue to trash morale and compromise recruitment and retention.