City of Austin, EMS Association sign agreement focusing on recruitment and retention

On Thursday, the city of Austin and Austin EMS Association signed a one-year labor contract after months of negotiations. The deal aims to help with pay, recruiting, and retention amid a major staffing shortage.

"This one-year contract, we consider it kind of like a tourniquet," Selena Xie, president of Austin EMS Association, said. "Unfortunately, we could not come to a four-year deal with the city, and the best that we could agree to is a short-term compromise. All it does is it prevents an absolute staffing collapse."

Xie says there's about a 23 percent staffing shortage. They lost 60 medics this year. The last record was 57.

She says another issue is retirement.

"A majority of our medics can't retire until they're the age of 62, after they work 30 years on the ambulance because of some changes that they made to our retirement. Police officers and firefighters, they get to retire after 25 years of service," she said.

With the contract, the city can hire experienced paramedics directly into the paramedic rank, instead of only hiring entry level EMTs who can be promoted in two years.

The starting pay for medics will be $22 per hour, up from $19.56. For clinical specialists, it will be $30.03 per hour, up from $27.

"Many medics, including those that are getting larger pay increases, they're still classified as low income in the city of Austin," Xie said.

"I think it lays the groundwork for a much longer contract," Mayor Pro-Tem Alison Alter said at Thursday's city council meeting. 

"I think this is a very important next step for us as we work with our EMS Association, but it is just a next step," Alter said. "I think that our chief and our association are very committed to addressing the vacancies and making sure that our EMS is the world-class response unit that it can be and a place where people want to work."

The contract takes effect on October 1.

"Moving forward, we really hope that we can come to a long-term contract that really helps retain medics. We have to work on creating a sustainable retirement, and we have to really raise the pay for our existing medics, so that they will want to stay and feel valued by the city," Xie said.