Oglala Sioux Tribe Ambulance Service workers may be going on strike today to force the tribe to pay them what they are worth. Low pay for emergency services on Pine Ridge is causing long hours and a workforce shortage:
…the OST ambulance service should have 42 medics, but in reality there are only 16. OST paramedic Cristy Hawk says they have to prioritize calls based on severity of the emergency, “we have someone over here having breathing difficulty, I am really sorry but your stomach ache, or stubbed toe is going to have to hold off and wait until we are able to get an ambulance to respond.”
While new Ambulance service workers start out at $8.89 an hour, Hawk-Hagen says she only had two pay raises in 15 years and the low pay is making it harder for workers to want to stay, “working 90 hours a week to make a livable wage is not livable, our people are getting sick, their tired, their getting hurt and some people just cant do it anymore they have to leave and do this same job somewhere else for twice as much money” [Scarlet Lisjak, “OST Ambulance Service Workers Will Walk Out Friday Stating Low Pay and Not Enough Workers,” KOTA-TV, 2021.08.18].
OST ambulance workers have given these demands to the OST Health and Human Services committee:
- Pay increase for EMT’s of $8.00, Intermediate/advance & Paramedics $10.00; dispatchers are raised to Tribal minimum wage, from here on out, this will be hiring wage.
- 3.5% cost of living wage increase yearly;
- Wage raises every year(0.25-$1.00) depending on your annual review score;
- Grade steps for all existing employees and you keep all grade steps you have achieved when you move up into a higher level of certification;
- If you are moved up to a supervisor or higher position within the Ambulance Service, you keep all of your leave and years of service;
- Ambulance personnel can use the amount of leave they are scheduled for on their current schedule; ambulance personnel are not topped out at 40 hours per week unless that is what they are scheduled;
- If you have over 160 hours of leave at the end of the year then it gets paid out or it gets rolled into Ambulance leave fund for employees in need;
- All current existing employees get grandfathered in as permanent(due to pandemic of never being able to interview;
- All ambulance EMT/paramedic positions are to be advertised continuously;
- Base repairs are done in a timely manner(within two weeks for non-emergent repairs);
- New uniforms yearly, pants x 2, shirts x 2, boots x 1;
- Ambulance Service does in-person training, computer training, go to conferences and stays a member of the SD Ambulance Association;
- Ensure supplies are provided for, so staff can do their job in a timely manner and best of their ability(ex. AED, EPI);
- Stipend for EMS Week every year $500.00, per unit, this is community relations event(this has always come out of employees own pockets) and
- Stipend for parades and PR events [Tom Crash, “OST Ambulance Staff Threaten Walkout,” Lakota Times, 2021.08.19].
Smithfield meatpacking workers in Sioux Falls were able to win better pay and working conditions by threatening a strike in June. If Oglala Sioux Tribe ambulance workers are able to make similar progress, perhaps other workers in South Dakota will get the idea and flex their collective muscle to win from their employers the compensation their labor deserves.