By SHERI GASSAWAY
A St. Louis County Circuit Court judge has issued an order compelling University City to comply with the minimum staffing requirements and overtime pay clause in its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with city fire fighters, members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2665.
The two conditions became an issue after the city began outsourcing its emergency medical services to Gateway Ambulance in September. Those services were being provided by the city’s fire fighters – all of whom are paramedics as well. It’s a move that outraged both union officials and residents.
THE LEGAL CASE
Last month, Local 2665 filed a legal brief in court asking that the decision be overturned because it represented a breach in the city’s CBA with fire fighters. Specifically, it violated two provisions in the agreement in that:
• At no time should the number of city fire fighters/paramedics on duty at any given time drop below 11 employees;
• All ambulances must be staffed with two city fire fighters/paramedics.
Local 2665 Vice President Kurt Becker said since the city has outsourced emergency medical services, there have been well below the required 11 fire fighters on duty each day. He added that at times, there have been fewer than seven personnel on a shift.
“We consider the ruling a huge win for us,” Becker said. “While the order in and of itself does not expressly prohibit University City from outsourcing its EMS transport operations, it will make it very difficult for the city to successfully make an argument that outsourcing those service will save the taxpayers any money in the annual budget.”
Originally, Local 2665 and its fire fighters sought a writ of mandamus from the court, that if granted, would have declared that city officials exceeded their scope of duties and overturned the controversial contract.
Becker said rather than ruling on the writ, the judge took a different approach by issuing the order emphasizing compliance with the CBA’s staffing and overtime requirements.
“We are happy with the order because it is harder to appeal, and their compliance with the CBA is what we wanted,” he said.
U-CITY’S HASTY DECISION
The U-City Council voted on the Gateway contract at its Aug. 3 meeting – just five days before residents and members of Local 2665 were informed it. More than 100 residents attended the four-hour meeting with the majority speaking against the contract.
They expressed concerns about longer response times and the fact that an EMT – who can only provide basic life support – as opposed to a paramedic who can provide advanced life support, would be staffing the ambulances.
City officials contended at the time that the use of the private company will save the town $500,000 a year in emergency medical services, reduce the number of mistakes caused by fire fighters/paramedics working 48-hour shifts and decrease response times.
“Financially, it makes no sense to keep Gateway, lose the money from emergency medical services and to have 11 fire fighters on duty,” Becker said.
At least two city council members sided with the fire fighters on the subject – Terry Crow and Paulette Carr. Both voted against the Gateway contract at the Aug. 3 meeting.