Commissioners vote to end EMS union contract.

July 12, 2018

Oceana County EMS employee Mark Burmeister addresses the Oceana County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners vote to end EMS union contract.

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By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — After nearly three hours of discussion, the Oceana County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 Thursday, July 12, to terminate its contract with the union that represents Oceana County EMS.

The board set a special meeting for next Thursday, July 19, at 9 a.m. to discuss its next plan for the future of Oceana County EMS.

The vote followed months-long discussions of the possibility of creating a “public-private partnership” with Life EMS. Many emergency workers and local citizens have been speaking out against the proposed agreement.

County Administrator Robert Sobie has described the “public-private partnership as a “regional approach” to EMS services, similar to what many area hospitals have been doing.

The board approved a motion to terminate its contract with SEIU (Service Employee International Union) Healthcare of Michigan with a 60-day written notice via certified mail. Commissioner Martha Meyette cast the lone dissenting vote.

The motivation for changing EMS services is based on cost, particularly overtime pay. “Last year, three of the top 10 wage earners in Oceana County were EMS employees,” said Commissioner Robert Walker, who chairs the law and safety committee. Oceana County EMS has a $1.3 million annual budget, he said.

“We have heard some hard-spoken dialogue from my fellow commissioners today. They truly do care for the people who work for us, but we still have the responsibility to look at it, explore it and see if there is a need for change,” Walker said.

“From my standpoint, the board has five options,” stated Walker in a prepared statement.

The options include: 1. Don’t change EMS services and start looking for a new EMS director; 2. Don’t be involved in the EMS business; 3. Move forward with a Life EMS contract; 4. Talk to Professional Med Team Ambulance (Pro-Med) about a partnership; and 5. Look for an outside administrator who can be totally independent of a union “and see where we can go from there.”

Lance Corey, who served as EMS director, resigned in December of 2017 to take a position in Kent County. A new director has yet not been hired.

“With my background, I knew we needed to take a look before we hired a director. It costs so much less for (our neighboring) counties with a private company,” Walker said.

A few of the commissioners said they felt insulted by SEIU Healthcare Regional Representative Nanette Homan at the last July 2 evening meeting that drew approximately 140 people.

“Your union has done nothing to assist you,” said Commissioner Larry Byl. “She is grandstanding. You come up; you scream; you holler; you call us idiots. I’m sorry you represent these folks,” he said to Homan. “I feel bad for our employees because of that.”

“We’ve been called idiots and stupid and probably the worst thing is that we were accused of taking bribes from Life (EMS) and Pro Med,” Walker said.

“I greatly apologize if any of you felt threatened,” Homan said to the board. “I never called you idiots.”

Homan said she never reached out to people in the community to oppose the proposed partnership with Life EMS. “This has been a grassroots movement by your community,” she said.

Many signs in support of Oceana County EMS are on display in yards all over the county.

“You may call me a union thug, but that makes me happy,” Homan told the board.

“We would be happy to discuss overtime issues. The reason they work so much overtime is because these folks work 24-hour shifts. So, shame on you for telling me I’m not representing my people.”

“I think we need to start looking for a new director and move on from there,” said Commissioner Jim Brown. “I agree with Larry, I don’t like the personal insults.”

“We have always respected all of the employees of Oceana County,” said Commission Chairman Denny Powers.

Powers said there have been discussions to set up a long-term contract, but the union refused. “Some things in the contract are just not sustainable,” he said.

“We cannot operate in a vacuum,” said Commissioner Dean Gustafson. “We have reimbursement limitations — that is why we have a millage. Gustafson said the county needs to “affiliate with an organization” that is up to date with training and equipment, stating that he is in support of a public-private partnership. “A public-private partnership system that would be adequate to serve the people at a cost we could afford.”

“There is more frosting on the cake with Oceana EMS than we get with Life,” said Meyette. “If some of that frosting is being charged, then it’s not frosting anymore.”

“I cannot get past the fact that there was not one public safety person who said that we think Life (EMS) would be better,” Meyette said. “I believe that they believe Oceana EMS is a cut above the rest.”

Meyette cited the recent “lauding of the cohesion among the emergency units” during a recent active assailant training involving EMS personnel, firefighters and law enforcement.

Oceana County EMS employee Mark Burmeister said overtime is “built into” the EMS employees’ wages, with at least eight hours of overtime every week.

Burmeister said the board should choose the fifth option that Walker presented. “Have a consultant come in. That would be a great thing.”

“There is a huge shortage of workers at Life EMS,” said Oceana County EMS employee and Union Steward Steve Headland. “There are not enough people to fill the trucks. Nationwide, there is a huge shortage of personnel. That is the beast we have to deal with. If we can hire more people to get rid of overtime, that’s great. But where do we find these people?”

Oceana EMS employee Bob Hawk said he also prefers that the board pursue the fifth option of hiring an outside consultant. “Go with the number five option. I think they will say it’s run the way it should be. Get us a director, and we will figure out the overtime thing. I will work with anyone, I’m part of a team.”

This story is copyrighted © 2018, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

Oceana County Commissioner Martha Meyette speaks during the commissioners’ meeting Thursday, July 12. At right is Commissioner Andrew Sebolt.

 

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