EMS union president loses reelection

Tony Marquardt, president of the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Employees Association, lost his bid for reelection to Selena Xie, a young paramedic who is vehemently against the oft-discussed proposal to merge the EMS department with the fire department.

I have very little insight into the dynamics that shaped the leadership race, but in her answers on the candidate questionnaire emphasized some of the unique challenges that younger medics face, particularly on retirement. She explains:

I am on the 30-year-plus-age-62 retirement plan. With 31 more years in this department to go, I think about my chances of retiring before the stress of the job or an injury forces me to quit.

Marquardt didn’t rule out an EMS-Fire merger, emphasizing instead the need to prevent job losses in either department and make sure that EMS employees were offered the same rank as firefighters doing the same job. Xie was completely against the idea:

I am against merging, and we need a president who is fighting for the interests of medics. There have not been any successful EMS-Fire mergers of major metropolitan systems in the U.S. FDNY is a prime example of how two systems can merge and still remain unequal. We must make sure the city puts our medics and the wellbeing of the residents of Travis County first.

….Fire departments are interested in fighting fires. EMS is interested in emergency medicine. Historically fire departments have wanted to take over EMS agencies in order to improve resources for firefighting and not EMS. I have heard people talk about the raises we will get, fixes for retirement or improved management, but these are assumptions not guarantees. We work a shorter work week from AFD and also do a very different job. There are other avenues for fixing the retirement issue that we must be consider first.

The thing is, much of the emergency medical work done in town is done by the fire department. Indeed, most of what the fire department does is EMS work. So “if fire departments are interested in fighting fires,” why are we depending on them for so much EMS work?

The fact that EMS is so much smaller than the fire or police departments likely reduces its power at the bargaining table. That may help explain why EMS workers haven’t gotten quite the deals that cops and firefighters have been able to negotiate in recent years. Katie Hall reported last year:

Anthony Marquardt, president of the Austin-Travis County EMS union, said medics feel undervalued in Austin compared with police and firefighters. Medics receive a 10 percent salary increase in their first three years in Austin, compared with the 24 percent and 29 percent increases that Austin police officers and firefighters receive, respectively. After 10 years, medics see a 35 percent rise in pay, while officers and firefighters receive a 42 percent increase.

While all the hullabaloo was going on about the police contract, hardly anybody noticed that the EMS union had gone months without a contract. As I wrote in March:

Tony Marquardt, president of the Austin-Travis County EMS Employee Association, told the Public Safety Commission on Monday that while city management and City Council try to hammer out a contract with the police union they appear to be putting off addressing the emergency medical service employees’ concerns.

“Unlike Police and Fire, we were never afforded the opportunity to bring something to the dais for City Council to vote down or up,” he said.

When city management and the association reached a stalemate during contract negotiations in October, the association offered a short-term extension of the current contract, said Marquardt. The city rejected that offer.

Part of the problem, he said, is that the EMS department and its union are much smaller.

“The police have the resources. Our association is much smaller and we have no staff. This (police contract) has been overshadowing our issue,” he said.

Here’s Xie’s statement on Facebook celebrating her victory:

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Xie appears to have a political consciousness that is much broader than union advocacy. She previously worked as a policy analyst Texas Impact, a coalition of religious groups that advocate on social justice issues.

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