New EMS contract does not address fatigue issue


by TINA SHIVELY KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

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Posted on September 26, 2013 at 6:41 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 27 at 4:05 PM

AUSTIN -- A 48-hour work week is taking a toll on Austin-Travis County EMS workers. A new city audit that surveyed medics says they're sleepy on the job, have trouble focusing at times, and are frustrated.

After months of negotiation, they got a new contract Thursday, but it doesn't include the one thing they really wanted -- a shorter work week.

President of the EMS Employee Association Tony Marquardt explained the challenge. "We start with a 48-hour work week -- 24 hours on and a couple of days off, which is grueling," he said.

Paramedic Trevor Burrier has been responding to emergency calls in Austin for seven years. He's excited that the contract includes a pay raise and flexibility in the hiring process. Burrier believes a shorter week will help with the most critical challenges of his job, which can be both physical, and emotional.

"It fatigues a lot of our employees. Anything we can do to reduce that down to a 42 hour -- or even less -- maybe a 40 hour, maybe it would be great," added Burrier.

While city leaders say they understand the need for a shorter work week, at this point it's not a condition they can agree to.

"It's a management right that we need to retain so we can change hours as demand changes in the city," says Deven Desai, the Chief Labor Relations Officer for the City of Austin.

Desai says a happy and healthy workforce is a top priority, but points out other civil servants like police officers and firefighters also do not have the shorter workweek provision in their contracts.

There are some EMS employees who work shorter hours, including administrators and communications staff. Burrier hopes all of his coworkers will soon be included in that group adding, "It will help an employee's longevity and in turn help the City of Austin, because that's who we're here for."

Marquardt says discussions have already started about possibly changing the workweek policy. He says he's confident that both sides can find a solution.