Two Cleveland ambulances are parked outside a home with their lights on at night.
Cleveland EMS will start paying experienced paramedics a higher wage when they transfer from other Ohio cities after an agreement between the city and the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees, the union for EMS employees. Credit: Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees

EMS employees will now receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave, matching non-union employee benefits, thanks to an agreement between the City of Cleveland and the emergency workers’ union. 

A second agreement allows paramedics transferring from another city in Ohio to Cleveland’s Division of EMS — what’s called a lateral transfer — to be paid a paramedics’ rate instead of a lower training rate. 

The Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees (CARE), the union for EMTs and paramedics, signed the two agreements this week. 

The city is offering the new parental leave benefits to all bargaining unions. Three have signed the agreement so far, said Marie Zickefoose, the city’s press secretary. 

The EMS union was the first to sign the agreement, said Mark Barrett, CARE president.  

EMS employees’ parental leave benefit will match that of non-union city employees, according to the agreement. The new benefits for both union and non-union employees will start Sept. 15. 

Cleveland City Council approved the new parental leave benefits for non-union city employees in May. 

The changes include 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Employees could also use the benefits if they become a child’s court-appointed guardian.  

The benefits also provide 20 hours of leave for prenatal or pre-adoption appointments.

Barrett said the new benefits package should help attract more city employees. 

‘Huge weight off their shoulders’

Timothy Sommerfelt, a union representative, gave credit to City Hall. He said he’s especially grateful that the city offered additional benefits after contract negotiations had already ended. 

“Because they didn’t technically legally have to do that. But they noticed it was the right thing and went ahead and did it,”  Sommerfelt said.

Sommerfelt said emergency response takes a toll on employees mentally and physically. Being able to focus on parenting without that added stress is important, he said. 

Being on the front line of emergency response also means paramedics and EMTs are exposed to contagious infections and can bring those home to a newborn if they’re working soon after having a baby.

“When you have a child, you want your focus to be on that child,” Sommerfelt said. “You want to be able to be there for your child, for your spouse or your partner. And when you’re working on certain high-stress jobs, especially public safety jobs, that can be a big challenge.”

Three Cleveland EMS employees stand in front of a yellow ambulance vehicle outside of MetroHealth.
EMS employees pose in front of an ambulance at MetroHealth hospital. EMS employees will now get 12 weeks paid parental leave. Credit: Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees

About a third of EMS workers are women, Sommerfelt said. He added that guaranteed paid parental leave, especially for nursing mothers, will be a “huge weight off their shoulders” as they manage things like the schedule demanded of breastfeeding. 

Barrett said a lot of the EMS workforce is also young, meaning employees who recently started their emergency response careers are often also starting families. 

‘These are not entry-level people’

The second agreement allows those with an active Ohio paramedic certification to receive a Cleveland paramedic’s starting pay rate of $27.59 per hour. Before the agreement, Ohio paramedics wanting to transfer to Cleveland EMS had to start at the training pay rate — $16 per hour. 

Paramedics making a lateral transfer need to have at least one year of experience and must have worked as a paramedic within the past year.

EMS has been struggling to recruit paramedics from other cities because they would start work at the training rate, Sommerfelt said. 

That means a paramedic with five years of experience coming from Cincinnati, for example, and a new EMT without prior job experience would both make $16 per hour while they go through 12 weeks of training.

“These are not entry-level people,” Sommerfelt said. “These are healthcare practitioners. And we want to be able to provide the best emergency medical service, the best healthcare for the citizens of Cleveland.”

To become a paramedic, a person must undergo 1,000 hours of training. That’s significantly higher than the 150 hours required for EMTs. 

“We need to start looking at paramedics as valued, experienced healthcare providers,” Sommerfelt said. 

He hopes the new policy allowing for lateral transfers will help EMS bring experienced paramedics to the City of Cleveland. 

EMS has 28 open positions for EMTs and paramedics. 

Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.