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Pittsburgh paramedics to decide whether to authorize strike

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 7:34 p.m.

Pittsburgh paramedics will either accept a new contract offer from the city on Friday or vote to authorize a strike, a union official said.

The Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics Local 1, which represents about 160 Pittsburgh paramedics, has been working for two years without a contract. Members said they are unhappy with the latest offer from the city, especially a proposal to move rescue operations traditionally performed by paramedics to the fire department.

“We'll either be voting for (the contract) or to take a strike authorization vote,” union President Anthony Weinmann said, declining further comment until after the vote.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has set aside $13.3 million, which includes $12.6 million for salaries, in his 2013 budget for emergency medical services. The amount represents an increase of about $500,000 over 2012. Total salaries would increase by about $300,000.

Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven declined comment. City Council and the city's state financial oversight agency must approve the budget.

Paramedics Ian Frankel and David Morris said they were leaning toward voting for the strike authorization because the city's contract offer “stinks.”

Frankel, 61, a city paramedic for 35 years, said EMS personnel have exclusively performed swiftwater rescue, elevator rescue and extrication for traffic accidents during his entire career.

In recent years, though, the city has been training firefighters to do many of the same duties.

All new firefighters are now certified as emergency medical technicians. All public safety personnel, including police officers, also are trained in water rescue operations. Firefighters underwent training in rescues from vehicle crashes. The city has about 600 firefighters.

“They think since there's more firemen, they can get to an accident quicker, but they're not trained like we are,” Frankel said. “They use brute force. We're trained in finesse.”

Joe King, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1, which represents Pittsburgh firefighters, declined comment.

Morris, 53, a 21-year veteran, said EMS workers are the hardest-working public safety employees, but their union has less political power than those representing police and firefighters.

“This contract is just another slap in the face to us,” Morris said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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