New York City’s emergency medical service (EMS) workers, who have been crucial in the frontline response, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, are grappling with longstanding wage disparities.
Former Fire Commissioner Tom Von Essen highlighted that these disparities have continued for 25 years. “Nobody did anything for those guys. These guys have been getting screwed around for years. It’s so wrong. It’s disgusting,” lamented Von Essen, who pivotally transitioned EMS services from the public hospital system to the FDNY.
He emphasized the gravity of the issue, especially considering the life-threatening situations EMS technicians and paramedics faced while transporting COVID-19 patients at the pandemic’s peak.
The wage structure permits EMTs to earn between $39,000 and $59,500 after five years of service. Meanwhile, salaries for medics range from approximately $54,000 to $76,000 after the same period. In contrast, firefighters can earn up to $110,293 over five years.
This considerable wage gap pushes many NYC EMTs and paramedics towards Nassau County, where the remuneration is significantly higher, potentially reaching up to $81,000 after just one year.
Oren Barzilay, the president of the EMS Local 2507 union, which represents over 4,000 EMS professionals, expressed deep concern, stating, “New York spends tens of thousands of dollars training each EMS professional but compensates them more like teenagers on a weekly allowance.”
According to Barzilay, this low wage has resulted in a “brain drain” in the sector.
As the state Senate prepares to convene a public hearing addressing the retention challenges within the city’s government workforce, the FDNY EMS staffing issues will be under the microscope.
The city negotiated substantial salary increments for 75% of its other workers last year while the ambulance workers’ contract lapsed.
Mayor Eric Adams, when backed by the EMS union during the 2021 Democratic primary, promised to tackle the pay disparity, stating, “Our EMTs, paramedics, and fire inspectors deserve our city’s thanks and respect, but for years they have been shamefully denied basic pay equity.”
Earlier, the city administration conveyed its openness to discuss wage packages for EMS professionals.