In October 1976, almost six years after the Seattle Fire Department and Harborview Medical Center formally initiated their EMS program, the Seattle Fire Department conducted its first paramedic training for those who were not in its department. King County was interested in replicating Seattle's improving EMS system, and formed three provider groups. Each sent employees to be trained: Shoreline Provider Group, Highline Provider Group, and Valley Provider Group. One of those who attended was Tom Gudmestad (Retired Medical Services Officer of Medic One) who had been an EMT with the Burien Fire Department since 1972. He remembers that the training lasted almost a year, and that it emphasized the Seattle-Harborview way of doing things. Members of this training group were civilian employees of provider groups, and those in charge of the Seattle Fire Department's program were leery of certifying paramedics who were not already professional firefighters.
Gudmestad's class graduated and went into service in September 1977. The Shoreline Provider Group rapidly cross-trained its paramedics and incorporated them into its fire department. Members of the Valley Provider Group shifted their day-to-day operational control and administration to Valley Hospital. The Highlline Provider Group continued to use its executive board and its administrative body. This board was made up of member-entity representatives, and there were difficulties in selecting an operations administrator from any one entity who was not already a fulltime employee.
As all three provider groups began to provide ALS, adequate staffing became an issue. By the time training was complete, Highline had eight fulltime paramedics, and could therefore staff around the clock. Valley had only six, which meant it required extensive overtime shifts to provide uninterrupted coverage (three of its candidates did not complete the training). In addition, there was no mutual aid agreement, further stretching the service either provider could provide. Gudmestad cited another demand on service. Adjacent areas, including a large portion of southern King County, had no ALS. This meant Highline calls included meeting aid cars that had driven a patient to the edge of Highline's service area.
Paramedics for these provider groups also knew they were paid significantly less than those working for the Seattle and Bellevue fire departments, since they received only a fifty-dollar raise from their training pay (of one thousand dollars per month) when they went to work. As they tried to address these staffing and pay issues, they realized they had no representation. Those in the Highline group invited those in the Valley group to talk about going union. Gudmestad, an IAFF member on "withdrawn" status from the King County Fire District 2 Department (Burien), argued long and hard that IAFF affiliation was the way to go. Others, who had worked for Shepard Ambulance, wanted to go back to the union that had represented them, the Teamsters. By the end of the meeting, Gudmestad had convinced his coworkers to go IAFF.
The next hurdle was the IAFF itself. At this time there were no IAFF members who were not firefighters. The IAFF Executive Board had adopted resolutions in 1975 that:
this type emergency medical service
[paramedic]... should be within the
"juristiction" of the fire department
What the IAFF hadn't addressed was what to do with paramedics who were not firefighters. Jim Martinez (Boise #672), then IAFF District 7 vice president, went to bat for the paramedics, and helped affiliate one of the first paramedic locals. The IAFF cites September 2, 1977, as King County Paramedics #2595 affiliation date. (Since they went into service on September 1, the affiliation date may have been back-dated, to honor the commitments and intentions of its members.
Having a local didn't make things much easier. When the provider groups refused to recognize the local, King County Paramedics #2595 was forced to go to the Public Employment Relations Commision (PERC). Once PERC ruled the local represented the paramedics, negotiations began, and eventually finished, granting parity pay with others in the region, such as paramedics working for the Seattle and Bellevue Fire Departments, and for the Evergreen Provider Group.
At this point the provider groups and King County used a strategy that is fairly common within public and private employer management circles, claiming that although the provider groups would be happy to meet their contractual pay requirements, King County was the one with the money, and it wouldn't pay. The providers made it clear they had no funding to cover the additional expense. When King County Paramedics #2595 went to King County, charging that it was its employer, the county said the provider groups were the employers. The local sued King County, claiming it was the defacto employer. Just before the court date, King County agreed to provide funding to meet the paramedics' negotiated contract. King County's relationship with METRO at the time helped motivate the county to avoid a court decision that would have set a precedent.
Both Highline and Valley Provider Groups were shifted to King County in 1980, and became King County Medic One. Eventually, another provider group within the county, serving Auburn and Federal Way, also became part of King County Medic One.
During the time they were negotiating with the county, King County Paramedics #2595 applied for membership in the WSCFF. Gudmestad remembers a meeting with the WSCFF's president, Doug McNall (Everett #46), and another WSCFF representative. They met in a bar and the WSCFF contingent had a fair bit to drink and little to say other than "there's nothing we can do for you." By April 1983, the WSCFF changed its tune. King County Paramedics #2595 became part of the WSCFF.
About five years later, King County Paramedics #2595 were the focus of a contentious lobbying effort by the WSCFF. Eventually, the 1988 legislature amended RCW 41.56 to grant binding arbitration to paramedics who were public employees, unless they worked for public hospital districts. Al Ross, King County's labor representative at the time, had insisted that the only way the county would concede was "over my dead body". When members of King County Paramedics # 2595 won, Gudmestad recalls his local sent a funeral bouquet to Ross.
Reprinted by permission from Ellie Belew Fully Involved (Olympia:
Washington State Council of fire Fighters,2004), 78-79.
Page Last Updated: Dec 27, 2008 (16:03:29)