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Ambulance Company, Union to Resume Talks

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Negotiations are expected to resume next week as bargainers try to avoid a strike by workers who provide ambulance service to many localities in Erie and Niagara counties, including Buffalo.

Officials from Rural/Metro Medical Services and Teamsters Local 375 confirmed Wednesday that they hope to return to the bargaining table soon.

Last week, the company's emergency medical technicians and paramedics overwhelmingly rejected a proposal advanced by a federal mediator. Employees took a strike vote in June, but union President Joseph Sorrento said all parties are hoping a walkout can be avoided.

"That's the last thing we want," he said. "We have not sent the company a strike notice, even though we haveauthorization from the union to strike."

Rural/Metro spokesman Jay Smith said company officials are hopeful the labor dispute can be resolved.

"We're still confident they're going to work things out," said Smith.

Rural/Metro is Buffalo's exclusive provider of ambulance service. It also provides emergency medical services to many neighboring localities, including Niagara Falls, Lockport, Medina and the towns of Cheektowaga, Hamburg and Evans.

If EMTs and paramedics walk off the job, what type of contingency plan does Rural/Metro have in place?

"It's a work in progress in a sense," Smith said Wednesday.

The company would work with "municipal partners," nursing homes and local hospitals to try to avoid service disruptions in the event of a strike, Smith added.

Working conditions have been the main points of contention, said Sorrento. Negotiators haven't even started to address wages and other economic issues. However, the union and Rural/Metro have come to terms on health insurance coverage.

Buffalo officials have been monitoring the labor struggle. First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey said Wednesday it's premature to speculate on what steps might be taken if emergency services workers go on strike, because all parties are hoping to avoid such an action. But he said one option might involve reaching out to other private ambulance companies to help grapple with any gaps in service.

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