MARIN, Calif. -- American Medical Response, which bills itself as the largest private ambulance company in the United States, is laying off about 50 emergency medical technicians in Marin who voted not to accept a proposed cut in pay.
The EMTs work out of an operations center on Du Bois Street in San Rafael and work on non-emergency ambulances, which transport patients from one hospital to another or to nursing homes. AMR said that to "guarantee smooth and safe transition of service" to its customers it will turn over its existing contracts in the North Bay to its competitors.
The company will continue to employ emergency medical technicians who work on emergency ambulances.
The company, which was purchased for $3.2 billion by the private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier and Rice about a year ago, released a statement: "Unfortunately, like many other health care organizations, AMR needed to make some major changes to how we operated, and wage alignment to market realities was a necessary, but difficult, part of that strategy." According to the release, "Our competitors pay upwards of 60 percent less, and many provide little or no benefits at all to their workforce."
Jason Sorrick, a spokesman for AMR, said the company's employees in the East Bay and South Bay accepted the wage cut, which ranged from 10 to 15 percent; employees with larger salaries will take bigger cuts. Sorrick said the laid-off employees earn an average annual salary of $50,000.
But Torren Colcord, executive director of the National Emergency Medical Services Association, the union that represents AMR's emergency medical technicians, said employees who wanted to continue getting paid extra for working nights were asked to accept a 20 percent cut in pay. The union is in contract negotiations with AMR.
"We've been negotiating with AMR for the last six months," Colcord said. "Everything is on the table."
Colcord said the union's vote on whether to accept the layoffs was unrelated to the contract negotiations. He said AMR threatened to lay off a total of 370 employees after it lost a major contract with Kaiser Permanente. Colcord said as a result of the vote by EMTs in the East Bay and South Bay to accept lower wages, there will be only about 164 layoffs company-wide.
Colcord attributed the lost contract to poor response times by AMR ambulances, however, not high labor costs.
"The quality of service was not at issue. It was the level of staffing and the number of ambulances on the street that was the main factor," Colcord said. "AMR was trying to squeeze as much out of their resources as they possibly could and they unfortunately came up short."
AMR reported a profit of $131 million in 2010. On the last trading day before it was acquired by Clayton, Dubilier and Rice in 2011, the company's stock was selling for $70.66 per share. Clayton Dubilier and Rice is a private equity firm consisting of corporate leaders from global businesses such as Allstate, Emerson Electric, General Electric and Proctor & Gamble; it manages the investment of approximately $15 billion in 48 U.S. and European businesses.