After months of negotiation between the St. Francois County Ambulance District’s (SFCAD) Board of Directors and International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 3705, employees of the ambulance district are now working under a ratified memorandum of understanding (MOU), which provides employment contracts through the end of 2020.
St. Francois County Ambulance District Administrator David Tetrault said the negotiations have resulted in a contract that both provides agreed-upon salaries to its union employees as well as clarification on “gray areas” in the previous agreement.
“We have a new ratified contract,” Tetrault said. “A lot of it had to do with some clarity — gray areas versus black and white. We wanted to identify some of those in the MOU.”
The contract was agreed upon and ratified by the district’s board of directors on Monday, which IAFF Local 3705 President Marc Mucci said provided stability and regained focus for union members.
“Generally speaking, over the course of the 18 months that contract was negotiated, a lot of man hours went into doing research to bring St. Francois County Ambulance District in line with like-sized ambulance districts with similar call volumes and revenue streams,” Mucci said. “While we couldn’t really bring us to industry standards due to some funding issues, we came as close as we possibly could.”
Mucci said the industry standard “top-out” for ambulance service personnel occurs after three to five years of service, whereas the recently ratified contract provides a top-out for SFCAD employees after seven years.
According to a copy of the MOU provided by SFCAD administration, the seven-year salary schedule begins at a base salary of $36,900 or $16.13 per hour for Emergency Medical Technicians (employees with EMT-Basic certification) and tops-out for seven year veterans at $48,000 per year or $20.98 per hour.
For certified paramedics, the base salary is $45,279 or $19.79 per hour with a top-out of $70,000 or $30.59 per hour.
The implementation of this pay schedule will not be immediate, however, according to a provision contained within the MOU, which states: “Commencing with the pay period starting January 1, 2019, if the district’s total revenue is equal to or greater than $9.4 million in 2018, a salary schedule will be enacted.”
If the threshold of $9.4 million is not reached, the board of directors may elect to enact the salary schedule or payout a pre-determined stipend to employees.
“We’ve been going back and forth on the salary package for the longest time — about 18 months,” Tetrault said. “We’re a $9 million company, so we put in a salary schedule that they could live with. It brings the paramedics up to $70,000 and EMTs to $48,000 a year with their benefit package. That’s about 74 percent of our budget, and they were OK with that.”
Tetrault said the union first returned to the district with an offer including an $80,000 top-out for paramedics, based upon comparison to other district salaries.
“It was months of hard work,” Mucci said. “When you start talking about people’s salaries and benefits packages — while we know we’re public entities and everything is public knowledge — but when you start talking about what people make, it makes them nervous. Especially when it comes to trying to get real good, strong, accurate numbers out of other districts to determine if we’re overpaying or underpaying.”
“When they looked at our budget of $9 million compared to services with a larger tax base, they realized that if they came back with the $80,000 they wanted, that would bankrupt the district in about four years. So that was not feasible.”
Tetrault said an important factor in the negotiation process was transparency, in allowing union representatives to get a good look at the district’s finances and to come up with an offer that would be possible to accommodate.
While the top-out salary schedule may seem more than generous, Mucci said it is important to remember the amount of training that every paramedic goes through — roughly the equivalent of a master’s degree in terms of hours.
In addition to the ratified salary schedule, Mucci and Tetrault said there were other provisions in the ratified MOU that are significant, including items pertaining to employee discipline, harassment and discrimination policy, the district policy manual and the renewal of the contract in future years.
“We agreed to put ‘just cause’ in our MOU,” said Tetrault. “Meaning, if somebody’s in trouble, has a write-up or a termination, we feel that just cause is a very good thing for both sides. There’s going to be a reason for the employee getting in trouble.”
Mucci said an area of great importance, in his view, is the “evergreen clause” in the MOU, which will help avoid a long period of negotiation without a contract, as has been the case for the last 18 months.
“This is an overall good contract and I think it will provide certainty of employment for our employees, which is really good, but even more importantly, it will assure that we will have quality and qualified staff to respond to emergency medical situations here in the county,” Mucci said.
“The biggest thing we saw on our side of the contract, in my mind, is the ‘evergreen clause.’ It really prevents us from getting into a situation where we were in the past, where there was a hard expiration date of the contract. Everybody was kind of in limbo. The employees and administration were both nervous.”
The three-section evergreen clause provides for the automatic renewal of the MOU upon its expiration date of Dec. 31, 2020, unless either party expresses, in writing by May 1 of 2020, the wish to terminate or modify a provision of the MOU
Negotiations regarding the specific provisions will then begin on the following July 1, while the rest of the MOU will be automatically renewed, thus avoiding a prolonged period of whole-contract negotiation when individual items can be addressed.
“I’m very happy that it’s over and that we have a signed contract that will run through 2020,” Mucci said. “The contract is what it is. Now, instead of hours being spent on research of other people’s salaries, we’re spending our time on off-duty services to the community. That’s what I’m really happy about — it’s over, and now we can really do what we care about, which is to serve this community.”
“I’m excited,” said Tetrault. “I’m very happy for the union. I think it will bring more collaboration with us. We’re willing to work with the union in any way possible to make our employees’ lives happier while still being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.”
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.