More than 200 Paramedics, EMTs, Dispatchers, Communicators and RNs want to ensure Virtua fulfills its obligations to Burlington and Camden counties and they want to have a voice so they could advocate for improved patient care and healthcare outcomes for all
An HPAE Organizing Committee of EMS and Transport Workers at Virtua Health has filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board for a union representation election.
On Friday, a delegation of nine paramedics and EMTs went to the Virtua Health offices at 303 Lippincott Drive in Evesham to demand recognition for their union because, they said, they have support of a majority of their co-workers to form a union. Simultaneously, they petitioned the NLRB for an election to join HPAE, the largest union of healthcare workers in New Jersey.
“We’re organizing to ensure that Virtua fulfills its obligation to our community and to have a voice to improve patient care and healthcare outcomes for all,” Paramedic Francis Pagurek, who has 44 years of experience in emergency medical services, including 33 years at Virtua, said. “By uniting as one collective voice, we can make positive changes to improve our workplace and to make Virtua the industry leader again.”
If successful, the new union will include more than 200 Paramedics, EMTs, Dispatchers, Communicators and Specialty Care Transport Registered Nurse at 11 stations across Burlington and Camden counties.
HPAE President Debbie White, RN, congratulated the workers on their organizing and urged Virtua Health to voluntarily recognize a group of workers who took risks and performed valiant service on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
“These workers bring their vast experiences, their education and their enthusiasm to the job,” White said. “It is important to give them a voice in the workplace to constructively solve issues that come up in the workplace without fear of reprisals. HPAE stands ready to help them achieve this important aspiration.”
Helene Langston, who has been in emergency medical services for 16 years, six and half years as a paramedic, joined Pagurek in the delegation to Virtua.
“I want a voice on the job so that I could have a channel to bring out problems and challenges on the job without fear that my employer would punish me or my colleagues for pointing out that our equipment are old and constantly breaking down,” Langston said.
She added that the reasons she and her co-workers are organizing go beyond wanting better pay and better working conditions, which are important if they want to stop the exodus of valued colleagues to better-paying jobs elsewhere.
“That’s a serious problem, in of itself, but the main reason people leave is frustrations over outdated equipment and vehicles so old there’s no guarantee they will get there when someone calls us in an emergency or, if could get them to the care they need at a hospital after we pick them up,” Langston said.
Also joining the worker delegation was EMT Megan Von Berg who has been with Virtua for more than two years.
“I believe it is important for us as employees to have a stronger voice so we can fight to improve our working conditions,” she said. “Safety issues with equipment and vehicles have always been a huge concern of mine here at Virtua and they’re often overlooked.”
Michael Edlund, who has been at Virtua for two years but has been a Paramedic for almost 10 years, said that besides outdated fleet, multiple emergency vehicles have over 250,000 miles on them.
“We believe that by joining HPAE, we will actually make Virtua a better provider of emergency medical services in our communities,” Edlund said. “Now, often, we are the first face of Virtua that anybody sees and it’s usually at a vulnerable time in a person’s life, when their very lives may be in the balance. Having an emergency vehicle break down at that very moment is not only embarrassing, it could have tragic consequences.”
Fore more information, contact: Michael Allen, (646) 436-7556