Rural/Metro Union Leader Addresses Strike Rumors

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Knox County (WVLT) - Worries about a strike by an emergency service provider in East Tennessee may all be for naught.

Volunteer TV's Jim Freeman has an update on a possible strike by Rural/Metro paramedics and EMTs.

Rural/Metro workers unionized at this time last year.

Now, almost a year later, union leaders and officials have yet to reach an agreement on a new contract.

Union officials tell Volunteer TV that despite rumors that a walk-out was imminent, union officials say they won't walk out on their public needing emergency care.

Kenneth Tuggle is the President of IAEP Local 421.

He calls negotiations between EMTs, paramedics, and Rural/Metro "bumps in the road."

"There's a few bumps in the road, but that's the normal route with any kind of negotiations, and we're working our way through them slowly, but surely. But we're getting there," said Tuggle.

Slowly may be the key word, since talks between Rural/Metro and its employees have been going on since March.

Talks are dealing mainly with money.

"Most of them are basically economic issues. There's not a great number of them right now. A lot of them we haven't discussed in the negotiations," said Tuggle.

Those "bumps in the road" surround what Tuggle calls reasonable requests.

On the bargaining table is what he says is a modest wage increase for everyone, along with other issues including vacation and health insurance.

And, should those bumps be big enough to force a strike, Knox County is ready.

"We're working on contingency plans through our Knox County Health Department, but let me say, I hope it doesn't come to that," said Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale.

In what most would consider to be surprising candor, union representative Tuggle says a walkout isn't what he and his fellow workers are all about.

"We're not going to walk out and leave everybody high and dry. We're in this business because we care about the people out here, and we're going to see to it they're taken care of," he said.

Tuggle adds that's there's no need to worry.

"I don't think anybody needs to worry about whether or not they're going to be able to get an ambulance if they need one."

To further ease our minds, we spoke with IAEP's National Representative Christian Cloen and he said that in their 15-year history, it has never gone on strike anywhere, ever.

Cloen adds that the last thing they want to do is to take away emergency services from you and me.

The next scheduled talks are set for December 18th.