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With unanimous support, paramedics and EMTs form a union with AFSCME in Montana

Staff at AMR Bozeman, Montana, formed a union through AFSCME Council 9. Photo credit: Tyler Holmes.
With unanimous support, paramedics and EMTs form a union with AFSCME in Montana
By Aaron Gallant ·

Faced with low pay, high turnover and faulty equipment, a group of dedicated EMTs and paramedics at AMR Bozeman voted unanimously to form a new union.

These new union members made history in February as the first EMS workers to form a union with AFSCME Council 9 and the first AMR employees to unionize in Montana.

“We really love what we do, we want to be helping people,” said Chris Dooley, who left his career in human resources to become an EMT. “But we need to make enough money to get by.”

Their pleas to management for better equipment, like new ambulances that can safely transport patients in Bozeman’s mountainous terrain, also went unresolved.

 “We're supplied with very old clapped-out ambulances that frequently break — whether it's wheels falling off, axles breaking or brakes just randomly failing,” explained Tyler Holmes, an EMT in Bozeman. “It really impacts our basic ability to respond to calls and confidently be able to help people.”

Their organizing campaign began last fall when a group of longtime workers at AMR Bozeman began talking to their colleagues about the possibility of forming a union. After receiving many positive responses, this core group of EMS professionals began collecting union cards with help from organizers at Council 9.

“We needed to come together in a collective action and have more of a voice,” Dooley said.

But it didn’t take long for AMR management to catch wind of their employees’ push to form a new union.

“When word first started getting out to management, we had a number of meetings with legal PowerPoints that they would put together and [they were] telling us that forming a union was a terrible idea,” Holmes recalled.

Despite management opposition, EMTs and paramedics voted in unison. All 34 workers who voted said “yes” to create their new union with Council 9. The turnout for the election was extremely high for the group of some 40 eligible workers, including part-time employees.

“That certainly sends a pretty strong message that this isn't just a handful of people,” Dooley said. “We all landed on the same answer.”

Having elected new officers, these AFSCME members plan to use their strong voice at the bargaining table to fight for their top priorities as they get ready to negotiate their first contract.

Their message to other EMS workers who are considering whether to form a union? Do it.

“If folks are feeling like we did, like they just have no voice and they don't know where to go to start fixing things, I would say absolutely do it,” Holmes said.

Public safety professionals are increasingly turning to AFSCME to build power at work, and to advocate for safety on the job, better wages, good health care and a secure retirement. AFSCME members in corrections, law enforcement and emergency response defend our freedoms and those of the communities we serve.

Visit the AFSCME Public Safety website to get involved and learn more.

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