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Mat-Su Responders Consider Union in Hours Crackdown

By Garrett Turner, Investigative Environmental Reporter, gturner@ktuu.com
Published On: Jan 20 2014 08:56:25 AM AKST
Updated On: Jan 20 2014 08:59:13 AM AKST
Mat-Su EMS
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

Larger than West Virginia but with only 5 percent of its population, the Mat-Su Borough is a huge area for emergency responders to cover -- but some of them are frustrated with a new cap on their weekly hours passed by the borough assembly.

"So we had been struggling a long time before now, but once the cap of 29.5 hours came at the first of the year it got much worse," Ashley Cunnington said.

Before the beginning of the year, on-call emergency responders -- which are considered part-time -- were able to work a total of 35 hours per week. Now it's 5.5 hours less, and Cunnington says that cut is affecting responders' ability to serve the community.

"On New Year's Eve we had 1.5 ambulances try to respond to thousands of calls," Cunnington said. "So you can imagine, you can realize that this is a huge problem -- our community is not getting the services we need."

On Saturday at Station 61 in Wasilla, responders met to talk about their frustrations and even about the possibility of unionizing. For the first time, the Mat-Su Borough Employee Association told the on-call staff, it was interested in sitting down to begin union formation talks.

Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss says that as of Jan. 1, the federal Affordable Care Act forces employers to provide health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week or more -- a change DeVilbiss says the borough can't afford.

"I can't see any way Obamacare's going to let us go into more than 30-hour temporary positions," DeVilbiss said. "We're gradually moving into a more permanent situation for these responders, but they're not getting it all at once."

DeVilbiss says there's hope for more full-time staff, but it's not clear whether they'll be enough to cover the borough.