City of Austin and EMS Association to negotiate disputed pay through mediator this month


Boram Kim


The Austin Emergency Medical Services Association (AEMSA) and the City of Austin are at odds over base pay for its medics and will mediate negotiations through arbitration this month. The two sides will meet on May 3rd to continue negotiating the new terms of the Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services Collective Bargaining Agreement and workers’ pay scale. The last agreement, reached in 2018, is set to expire in September of this year.


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Last month, the City of Austin offered the medics of AEMSA a 1% raise to their base wage of $19.56 per hour, an increase of 14 cents. AEMSA responded on Twitter and changed their handle to “WorthMoreThan14Cents” to express frustration at what they consider an inadequate pay increase.


In a statement to State of Reform, President of AEMSA Selena Xie called the raise a danger to the public.

“Times are very different now than when we bargained last,” said Xie. “We have seen the biggest shifts in healthcare employment than at any time in this generation. Nationally, we face nursing shortages and paramedic shortages. And the work has become almost unbearably difficult and dangerous. 

Locally, we are extremely short staffed, causing medics to work 48 hours of overtime a month on top of their regular duty, which has increasingly become more challenging with COVID-19 preparations and a rise in violence. ATCEMS [Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services] Medics have been increasingly exhausted, overworked, and endangered, all the while staring down the barrel of an ever-extending career with no relief in sight. Our morale is the lowest it has been in the eight years I have worked for ATCEMS.”


So far in 2022, the association has lost another 26 qualified, skilled, experienced medics compared to the total 28 lost for all of 2019. This year, AEMSA anticipates losing quadruple the number of employees it did in 2019 and double the number lost in 2020 and 2021. The association reports staffing is at 75.3% of optimum levels, down nearly 25%. By comparison, the city’s police and fire departments’ staffing decreased by 11% and 9%, respectively.  

AEMSA is seeking a raise to $27 per hour in order to meet the increases to cost of living, competition for qualified medics, and the wage stagnation in the city and Austin-Travis counties.


“In looking forward, we need radical changes to our pay structure. It is clear that the City of Austin recognizes this as well,” said Xie. “A medic can be hired by the City of Austin at a starting wage of $25 per hour for EMT-Basics working in a Prolodgea very low-stress position, while at ATCEMS, we start at $19.37 per hour to undergo exceptional physical and mental trauma. Medics with dependents are considered ‘very low income,’ according to the MFI chart, for 5 years of employment. A medic can make more money starting at Chick-fil-A or Walmart than at ATCEMS, or be paid $30 per hour working as a medic for Amazon or Tesla.

Furthermore, other EMS agencies are offering $25,000 sign-on bonuses for their 911 services. In order to work for ATCEMS, applicants must intentionally choose lower-paying, high-stress position with an incredible cost of living and poor work-life balance. We are outmatched. More medics have left ATCEMS at this point than any year in our history. And those that have remained are overworked and burnt out.”