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Local Paramedics Hold Protest Over Wages, Health Benefits

A group of paramedics and emergency medical technicians in San Diego County are demanding higher pay and better health care coverage. Today, they picketed on Balboa Avenue, hoping their voices would b


A group of paramedics and emergency medical technicians in San Diego County are demanding higher pay and better health care coverage. Today, they picketed on Balboa Avenue, hoping their voices would be heard. Full Focus reporter Heather Hill has the story.

The group protesting today says their most recent contract expired in November. Since then, they've been in contract talks with their employer, American Medical Response, or AMR.

They marched in front of AMR's local headquarters, calling for better compensation and benefits. The contract negotiations affect about 250 paramedics and EMTs in the county -- employees like Less Federoff. He's been working as a paramedic in San Diego for 25 years. Federoff says he and his co-workers are having trouble supporting their families on their paychecks in such an expensive region.

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<b> Federoff: </b> We've had a very difficult time trying to keep up with the cost of living here in San Diego. Seventy percent of our EMTs and Paramedics qualify for section eight housing assistance. We are among the lowest paid paramedics and EMTs in the county of San Diego even though we are the largest provider of ambulance transportation.

The group is also worried about what they consider a step down in medical coverage.

<b> Federoff: </b> What they've offered to us is a health care plan which offers us lower benefits at a higher cost. And, you know, here we are health care providers, and now we are going to have to take more money out of our own pockets just to pay for our health care and the health care of our families.
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AMR is the largest private ambulance service provider in the country. In San Diego, they serve mainly the South Bay, East County and the rural Eastern areas. The company maintains the compensation package they're offering local employees is at the high end when compared to what other private medical transport companies pay. 

<b> Jason Sorrick: </b> Well, actually, in any of the negotiations that we have, no cuts were offered. Actually, it's to the contrary. As I had stated earlier, 21-29 percent increase in pay over a five year period and then the continued receipt of health care benefits in addition to 401K offers as well.

The paramedics and EMTs rejected that offer, saying they need more to survive in San Diego. They are currently considering seeking representation outside of their union, the SEIU. AMR says this is one of the things holding up further negotiation talks.