LOS ANGELES -- The first strike in American Medical Response's 16-year history in West Covina, Calif., began with more than 300 employees picketing Monday.
The emergency medical technicians who respond to 9-1-1 calls from Temple City to Diamond Bar say they are underpaid and disrespected by management.
They have been working without a contract since May, according to Victor Ordorica, president of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.
AMR, which contracts with agencies throughout Los Angeles County, says the EMTs earn total compensation that is among the highest of private ambulance providers and they are committed to reaching an agreement.
"Compared to other providers we are not the lowest in terms of salary," said Jason Sorrick, spokesman for AMR. "We hope to reach an agreement with the union soon. A strike benefits no one."
But strikers said the proposed raise was lower than the cost-of- living increase.
"It shows management places very little value on its employees." said Mitch Scaff, an EMT.
AMR workers are also striking in Lancaster. They respond to emergency calls throughout the Antelope Valley.
In the most recent offer, employees would have received a 20 percent raise over the next four years and have 75 percent of their medical coverage paid for, Sorrick said. The offer was rejected last week.
"We feel we made a significant offer considering the state of the economy," Sorrick said.
But employees, many of whom say they make less than $10 a hour, say that offer is not enough. One woman said in a two week period she makes about $800.
Instead, the union is asking for a 23 percent raise over the next three years and for a clause to be taken out of the contract. The clause allows AMR to change insurance providers and increase co-pays and deductibles without bargaining with the union first, according to Ordorica.
AMR is utilizing its EMTs and supervisors from across the state and country to fill vacancies, according to Sorrick. AMR says it will continue to provide the same service they have been.
On Monday, the scene was chaotic with striking workers in front of AMR on Vincent Avenue making it difficult for temporary EMTs to cross the picket line.
Workers marched back and forth with signs in hand that read, "We Can't Afford to Get Sick," "Fair wages now" and "Save your life for $9.50 an hour."
Employees were also scattered nearby at the intersection of Arrow Highway and Vincent Avenue. Truck drivers and passers-by honked horns and waved in support.
Union employees are willing to strike for as long as it takes to reach an agreement, officials said.
Members of Trans-Aid, a competing ambulance service, were present at the strike in search of recruits. Former AMR employees, who left the company for more money, were also present to show their support.
"They should have (struck) a long time ago," said Dennis Medina, former AMR employee. "They (management) need to finally decide to pay them a decent wage."