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Pine Ridge EMTs Threaten Strike to Address Woefully Low Pay, Long Hours

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 3.5% cost of living wage increase yearly;
  3. Wage raises every year(0.25-$1.00) depending on your annual review score;
  4. 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;
  5. 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;
  6. 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;
  7. 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;
  8. All current existing employees get grandfathered in as permanent(due to pandemic of never being able to interview;
  9. All ambulance EMT/paramedic positions are to be advertised continuously;
  10. Base repairs are done in a timely manner(within two weeks for non-emergent repairs);
  11. New uniforms yearly, pants x 2, shirts x 2, boots x 1;
  12. Ambulance Service does in-person training, computer training, go to conferences and stays a member of the SD Ambulance Association;
  13. Ensure supplies are provided for, so staff can do their job in a timely manner and best of their ability(ex. AED, EPI);
  14. 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
  15. 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.


  1. Nick Nemec 2021-08-20 08:59

    This list of demands seems to be fairly minimal. I hope these workers are successful. Maybe more people will apply to fill the vacancies.

  2. grudznick 2021-08-20 09:01

    Lots of jobs open in Rapid City. All pay more than the Tribe’s starting wage. They need a new assistant general manager right now, a plumb gig indeed, but they always are in need of good servers. Apply in person, so gussy up and come in during the afternoon for a look-see.

  3. grudznick 2021-08-20 09:08

    Mr. Jumping Eagle, a council rep from the respected Medicine Root district and the chairman of the Health and Human Services committee that oversees the Ambulance Service said:

    If the Ambulance Service really cares about the Oglala Oyate, making demands and threatening a walkout is not the way to go. A new director was just hired, we need strong leadership in that position and stability and continuity if we’re going to move ahead.

    Mr. Jumping Eagle seems a rational, reasonable fellow, and one who should be looked to for guidance to solve these problems.

  4. cibvet 2021-08-20 10:34

    Typical rep response. Instead of fixing the low wage problem, move to a city where at least half of the city doesn’t want you and you will still get pitiful wages. Worst yet, you may be required to lather someone in gravy, disinfect everything when they leave, and your tip will be a note to get a better job.

  5. Jake 2021-08-20 11:10

    Labor is awakening nationwide. The wallets of the top 10% have been fattened repeatedly by the GOP tax/budget cuts and fighting minimum wage for many years.
    Remember a wild-haired looking liberal waving his arms and screaming $15.00 minimum wage a few years back?! Guys like grudz and other GOP Republicans said at the time “No way in hell!” Cost of a cup of coffee or burger will go up too high! They screamed that people should be glad to HAVE a job at $8 or $9 and shut up. Now, tho, with $15 being a pretty much given starting point, labor is realizing their worth and demanding (and getting) more as they should.
    Conservatives are famous for saying “the top 1% DESERVE a tax cut because they are the job-creators!” Well. labor is waking up that they are the ones doing the work and should be getting more.
    Notice which major party is concerned overall with labor’s issues-it damn sure isn’t the party of John Thune, Mike Rounds, Dusty and Noem who are so drunk on Orange (Trump) Kool-Aid they have lost touch with common people but have their campaign chests open and begging for more money.
    Should inflation become an issue (not yet tho) Republicans will blame it on Democratic policies of helping people as a whole instead of the GOP way of-picking winners and losers

  6. Porter Lansing 2021-08-20 11:44

    Grudznike, who sets his price according to what he can get, hasn’t any quarter or credibility advising a working person or an employer.

    *Addition to demands:
    -No worker can the discharged without a warning for any offense.
    -This warning only applies to the offense in question and isn’t cumulative with other complaints addressed.
    -Warnings are removed from employee’s permanent file after 24 months.

  7. Mark Anderson 2021-08-20 18:38

    Unions are the only way to go folks. The pubs hate them, except for the police, so you know they are great.

  8. Porter Lansing 2021-08-20 22:27

    And, police unions are the worst unions in USA. Crooked and manipulative. It’s unions like the cops unions that tear the system of equal bargaining apart.

  9. Cully 2021-08-21 20:25

    Here’s a summary of the follow-up to this:

    Council called them all in to the office and chewed their asses.

    They all quit.

    Oglala Sioux Tribal Ambulance Service was disbanded and no longer exists.

    Council asked IHS to take over…again. They’re sending two whole rigs down from Eagle Butte/Belcourt.

    It’s very likely that all of those people can be rehired at IHS as there’s a DESPERATE shortage of EMTs and paramedics. I believe IHS’s feasibility study said they’d need 72 FTE to adequately staff OST. They’re gonna have to get creative with staffing because there aren’t ~30 unemployed paramedics in the area. Or housing for people to move in. And IHS won’t let them work a straight 40hr/wk shift.

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