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Cleveland EMS Employees Win Ruling Over Work Shifts

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Emergency Medical Service workers won a court battle Friday that will allow some paramedics to work 12-hour shifts.

The ruling by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Terry reinforced a decision last month by an arbitrator in favor of the union.

The city appealed the arbitrator's ruling.

About half of the city's paramedics will work 12-hour shifts and the remainder will work eight-hour shifts. The shifts will be awarded based on seniority. The paramedics prefer the 12-hour shifts because of having more days off every week, along with overtime pay.

The longer shifts are not new. The city switched EMS workers to 12-hour shifts in 1995. But the city notified the union in October 2006 that it planned to cut the shifts back to eight hours in April 2007.

Cleveland officials favor eight-hour shifts because they keep more ambulances in service at one time and save the city about $500,000 a year in overtime, said EMS Commissioner Ed Eckart.

Workers on the longer shifts work 84 hours every pay period. The eight-hour shifts eliminated four hours of overtime every payday, Eckart said.

More important, he said, the eight-hour shifts cut the average response times by more than one minute. The response times could now increase, he said.

Stephen G. Palek, head of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees Local 1975, disagreed, saying the starting or ending time of a shift does not affect response times. A computerized-dispatch system put in place last year is the reason response times decreased. The shift change does not pose any danger to residents, he said.

"It's a scare tactic," Palek said. "It's all about money. The city cut our wages."

The average number of ambulances in service at any one time will not change, he added.

The city will not appeal the latest ruling and plans to monitor the situation.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: mpuente@plaind.com, 216-999-4141

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