Cleveland EMS hopes to boost staffing with higher entry wages
Experienced paramedics will now start at $27.59 an hour, as opposed to the training wage of $16 an hour
CLEVELAND — In a bid to boost EMS staffing, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and the union representing Cleveland EMS workers have agreed to higher starting wages for experienced paramedics.
The change, now in effect, means paramedics with at least one year of experience who take a job with Cleveland EMS no longer have to spend their first four to six months earning $16-an-hour training wages. Instead, experienced paramedics will be hired in at $27.59 an hour.
City Hall and the union anticipate the new hourly rate could help boost recruitment for paramedics interested in transferring to Cleveland EMS from other cities, hospitals or private ambulance companies.
Until now, those paramedics, who often make around $30 an hour, were looking at a massive wage cut if they wanted to join Cleveland EMS, because they would’ve started out at a training wage far lower than what they were earning elsewhere, said Timothy Sommerfelt, secretary of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees.
In Cleveland EMS’s most recent class of new recruits, not one paramedic agreed to fill one of the city’s open positions, Sommerfelt said.
“Nobody would take the job...and the feedback we kept getting was the training pay is an issue. [They told us] ‘I’d love to come work for you. But I can’t take a pay cut’,” Sommerfelt said.
Mayor Justin Bibb, in a Tuesday news release, said the boost is part of his commitment to reimagining public safety in Cleveland.
“We took a hard look at how we provide EMS within Cleveland and are excited to roll out these innovative recruitment strategies...” Bibb said in the release. “Our goal is to provide cutting-edge medicine by leveraging technology while at the same time hiring the best EMS providers to provide exceptional service to Clevelanders.”
Sommerfelt said the union met with Bibb personally to discuss the changes.
“We’ve been talking with the mayor, and he agrees that paramedics are healthcare workers—that they bring a skill set, and we need to stop treating them like entry-level workers,” Sommerfelt said. “As experienced health care providers, we want to leverage their experience to work for the city of Cleveland.”
Cleveland’s division is currently down 28 EMS workers. At times, paramedics are forced to work overtime to ensure there’s enough staffing to operate ambulances, which can lead to burnout, Sommerfelt said. At other times, limited staffing forces the city to operate fewer ambulances than it prefers. The union is hopeful the new entry wages will attract experienced paramedics to the job, and decrease burnout and ambulance shortages.
“All the ambulances in the world will just sit parked if you don’t have the paramedics to staff them,” union President Mark Barrett said in the release. “The Bibb Administration and EMS Commissioner Orlando Wheeler have realized that there is great value in putting the skillset of experienced EMS providers to work for Clevelanders and we are excited to work collaboratively to continually improve the emergency services we provide.”
The wage boost is part of a memorandum of understanding reached between City Hall and the union. New wages go into effect immediately, and they’re expected to be permanently folded into the next collective bargaining agreement that’s struck with the city, Sommerfelt said.
Also part of the agreement is 12 weeks of paid parental leave, which is a new addition to benefit offerings for EMS workers. Sommerfelt said that policy change is particularly important for paramedics and EMTs, who are on the front lines of exposure to things like Covid-19 and the flu, and worry about carrying those viruses home to newborns.
That addition comes two months after City Council mandated 12 weeks of such leave for all non-unionized city workers. Council did not have authority to provide those benefits directly to unionized workers, as they are barred from intervening on collective bargaining agreements. When new benefits are offered to non-unionized employees, though, it’s common for the mayor to extend similar benefits to union members during contract negotiations.
The EMS union’s most recent contract went into effect in August. Among other things, it provides a maximum hourly rate of $32.24, after five years of employment. Previously, the maximum rate was around $29.50, Sommerfelt said.
The union encouraged interested paramedics to apply for open positions by calling 216-623-5233 or visiting governmentjobs.com/careers/cleveland.
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