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Cleveland increases pay rate for EMS workers in effort to boost recruitment

Cleveland EMS ambulance traveling through Downtown Cleveland.
Kenneth Sponsler
Cleveland EMS ambulance traveling through Downtown Cleveland.

In an effort to recruit more emergency medical service workers, Cleveland has announced a significant pay raise for EMS staff in the city.

Cleveland is down 28 EMS employees. With competitive wages elsewhere, the city has struggled to recruit. The city's 2023 budget calls for a total of 304 EMS positions.

"We're not just ambulance drivers; we're healthcare providers," said Timothy Sommerfelt, the secretary of Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees Local 1975, the union representing Cleveland's EMS workers. "We really need to stop looking at this as just a transportation service but as mobile medicine and our paramedics as healthcare practitioners, not taxi drivers."

The city will now pay incoming EMS staff with at least one year of experience $27.59 per hour – a nearly $12 increase of the current rate.

"We can’t be paying a healthcare practitioner less than a fast-food worker," Sommerfelt said. "You need to be making more working on an ambulance than you would working at Arby’s."

The new pay rate makes Cleveland more competitive with neighboring communities that potential recruits and former city EMS workers have flocked to, Sommerfelt said.

"For a very long time we were paying less money and asking for more work than many of our suburban communities," Sommerfelt said. "This substantial investment in EMS is a good step in the first direction toward showing the value of EMS workers in the city of Cleveland."

The rate for new trainees without experience will remain the same at $16 per hour for the first four to six months of employment.

Sommerfelt said the union will next set its sights on advocating on the state-level for better retirement benefits. At present, an EMS worker in Cleveland must work 33 years before retiring, as compared to the police and fire employee's 25 years, Sommerfelt said.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.