‘Long overdue for a change’: Grady EMS paramedic reveals why he supports unionizing

Complaint charges Grady EMS with unfair labor practices as unionizing efforts continue.
Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 1:57 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2022 at 10:25 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - “It’s ridiculous. It’s unfair to everybody here in the city who’s calling for help.”

Like many first responders, this Grady EMS paramedic, who did not want to reveal his identity fearing he could lose his job, went into the field to help people. That’s why he’s grown frustrated with current working conditions at Grady EMS.

“It’s been a cluster. Conditions getting worse, [wait] times getting longer, people getting sicker or more angry with us or dying more frequently because we’re not able to get there,” the Grady EMS paramedic added.

Earlier this month, CBS Investigates reported on a group of EMS workers who were in the early stages of forming a union for Grady EMS’ roughly 180 employees. Grady provides 911 services to the city of Atlanta and 16 other Georgia counties.

This week, a complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations Board, charging Grady EMS with “unfair labor practices.” The complaint was filed by the International Association of EMT’s and Paramedics (IAEP), a union made up of 10,000 EMS workers nationwide.

An IAEP spokesperson said the complaint was filed on behalf of Grady EMS employees, though the filing does not list any specific employees.

The charge states, “Within the past six months, the Employer, by its officers and agents, has interfered with, restrained, and coerced its employees in the exercise of their rights under Section 7 of the Act by engaging in surveillance; threatening employees with the loss of benefits/ termination for supporting the union; removal and seizure of pro-union material; change in working conditions in retaliation for concerted activities; increased supervision to intimidate employees.”

Grady EMS disputes these claims. “IAEP does not represent Grady EMS employees,” a Grady spokesperson said. “The complaints filed are broad, with no specific details provided. Grady has always prioritized the fair treatment of our employees. We continue to encourage a collaborative work environment where our employees can express their concerns and offer feedback to leadership free from the fear of retaliation.”

Grady EMS disputes these claims. A spokesperson told CBS46 Investigates, “IAEP does not...
Grady EMS disputes these claims. A spokesperson told CBS46 Investigates, “IAEP does not represent Grady EMS employees,” adding “the complaints filed are broad, with no specific details provided.”(Rachel Polansky)

This push to unionize came after a CBS46 investigation exposed dangerously slow ambulance response times earlier this year. Grady’s average monthly response time for life-threatening calls, according to state records, was between 22 and 29 minutes for the first five months of 2022.

For less urgent calls, their average monthly response time was between 46 and 89 minutes.

“It’s not our fault. It’s the management and the way that we organize and triage these calls, and the way they get built and sent out or put on the waiting list. It’s not only inconsistent but there’s no liability,” the Grady EMS paramedic said. “It’s a poorly managed system and it’s long overdue for a change.”

In an interview last month, John Hanson, senior vice president of Grady EMS, blamed short staffing for longer response times, but said Grady was restructuring its dispatch protocols to improve those delays.

“We’ll take the criticisms and the challenges but we’re going to work through them and fix things,” Hanson said.

Meanwhile, Atlanta leaders said they’re not sitting idly by as ambulance response times continue to rise.

“We don’t want to be adversarial. We want to be a partner in this, and have our own set of ambulances,” Dustin Hillis, an Atlanta city councilman who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said.

Hillis is pushing for Atlanta to start its own ambulance service; not in place of, but rather in conjunction with, Grady EMS.

Atlanta City Councilman and Public Safety Chair Dustin Hillis
Atlanta City Councilman and Public Safety Chair Dustin Hillis(Rachel Polansky)

“I want to see more ambulances purchased and strategically placed throughout the city for when those issues arise with Grady’s response times or when there are unavailable units,” Councilman Hillis said.

So far, the city has purchased two ambulances that will be based at a new, Campbellton Road fire station in southwest Atlanta, a neighborhood long plagued by slow emergency response times.

The Grady EMS paramedic likened this approach to putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.

“You’ve heard it for decades now: Atlanta can’t live without Grady,” he said. “Well, the employees that you see when you call for help are tired of watching it die.”

Union organizers said they already have enough interest and support from employees, but did not want to provide specific facts or figures.

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