Emergency medical service workers in 19 Northern California counties voted 848-580 to join the National Emergency Medical Services Association, an "upstart" union that represents only paramedics and ambulance workers, the Sacramento Bee reports. The EMS workers will leave the Service Employees International Union -- one of the state's largest unions -- and its local United Healthcare Workers/West.
Torren Colcord, president of NEMSA, said, "EMS workers don't want to be part of a large conglomerate where EMS workers just get lost." EMS workers account for about 2,500 members of UHW's total membership of 135,000 workers.
Colcord said the union could begin representing the American Medical Response ambulance service company's 2,400 workers as early as next week.
Joanne Spetz, a professor with the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of California-San Francisco, said, "If UHW is trying to consolidate, this vote may tell the leadership that there are minority groups within their organization that might need some more attention."
UHW has one week to challenge the ballots, and officials said they would talk to members before deciding whether to do so. UHW organizer Audra Makuch said some members of the union are concerned about losing health care benefits under a new union, adding that most members like the security and size of SEIU and UHW. "Especially when you work in an industry as regulated as health care, it is really important to have a strong voice in Sacramento," she said (Osterman, Sacramento Bee, 3/22).