Rural/Metro Employees Vote to Unionize

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Knoxville (WVLT) - If you live in Knox County, outside city limits, Rural/Metro has been your ambulance service for almost twenty years.

Its crews had been non-union.

But as we first told you at noon, EMTs and paramedics have voted to join one of the country's faster-growing unions for medical workers.

What does this mean for your service? Maybe not all that much, if: union organizers keep their word, and Rural/Metro bargains in good faith, and the dollar figures and contracts are as they appear, or claim to be.

Basically, we gain a collective bargaining voice.

80 of Rural/Metro's 120 some eligible paramedics and EMTs in Knox County have decided a union should talk for them.

"They have to listen to a group of people a little bit more attentively than they do to a single voice or two," says EMT Ken Tuggle.

"This was important basically to assure everybody that they're going to be treated fairly," says EMT Scott Parter.

"We'll sit down at the table and negotiate in good faith, with that organization," says Rural/Metro Division Manager Mike Collins.

A labor organization, that, under Tennessee's Right to Work Laws, can't force Rural/Metro crews to join it.

But that could, if members vote to, strike.

"No, we're not going on strike--that's a definite no," Tuggle says.

We can accomplish our goals through the bargaining process and also through picketing, informational picketing and getting support from the community," says Bryan Hamrick, from the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.

"To the citizens I would say rest assured that if they need Rural/Metro, we will respond, we will be there," Collins says.


Rural/Metro's Division Manager says strike contingency plans are in place, but not in writing.

But there are other contracts to consider. The five year deal, Rural/Metro extended a year ago, with Knox County.

It spells out, not only standards of service.

But requires a mayor and county' commissioners price review board to approve any hike in fees or rates.

Beyond that:

"It has a clause in there, breach of contract, failure to perform, that the county has the option to provide the service, using the equipment of Rural/Metro," says Mark Jones from the Knox County Health Department.

"From what I understand of their financials, there's plenty of room in their profit margins to make concessions to their employees," Hamrick says.

Collins says he can't speak to what isn't on the table yet. "I do know the company's full intention is to stay in Knox County. We've got a very good relationship with the county and with the citizens we serve."

The National Labor Relations Board still has to certify the union election results.

Given the holidays, that's not likely until after the first of the year.

But assuming no troubles there, Rural/Metro and union spokespeople say bargaining could begin before the end of January.