'It's frustrating': FDNY EMS workers demand fair pay
In a city where first responders are hailed as heroes, the FDNY EMS workers are raising their voices, feeling undervalued and underappreciated due to their salaries. Despite the critical, lifesaving services they provide daily, EMS workers say they have been awaiting a pay increase that was promised to them for over two decades.
"It’s demoralizing. The atmosphere out there is very bad,” says Oren Barzilay, president of FDNY EMS Local 2507.
Barzilay says for more than 25 years, EMS workers have been promised a pay increase comparable to that of other first responders in the city, such as firefighters. However, they continue to wait for that promise to materialize.
"It's frustrating that you're standing side by side with other first responders on the same calls, as we all go to the same 911 calls, yet they’re making tens of thousands more dollars than us," says Barzilay.
The issue lies in the stark contrast between EMS salaries and those of their counterparts. Currently, the starting salary for EMS workers is equivalent to minimum wage. EMTs earn between $39,386 and $59,534 after five years, while a firefighter's salary starts at $45,196 and can raise to more than $100,000 after five years.
"People come here because they want to make a change and make a difference in people's lives, but after two to three years, they realize they are doing this work for practically no pay. They can earn more at jobs like McDonald's or delivery apps," Barzilay says.
The salaries have created a revolving door situation, leading to a significant loss of manpower each year. “We have a 30% loss of manpower every year. After five years, we lose over 50% of our workforce,” says Barzilay.
Richard Guzman, a former FDNY EMS employee, shared his story, having served 12 years with the EMS before resigning. Despite being promoted several times, he had to work overtime to make ends meet, which took a toll on his family.
"I have three beautiful boys and a wife and being able to support them is the main goal. The cost of living and trying to balance family life was extremely hard to do," Guzman says.
Guzman is now part of a class-action discriminatory pay lawsuit filed last year against the city. Barzilay hopes for a positive outcome as the case makes its way through the courts. Additionally, he is counting on Mayor Eric Adams to fulfill his campaign promise to address these pay concerns.
"I have men and women who are sleeping in cars, at the station, some are living in shelters. We save lives, we save hundreds of lives every year. They acknowledge that with ceremonies and ribbons, yet it doesn’t reflect on my paystub," says Barzilay.
A spokesperson with City Hall said in a statement, “EMS workers have made countless sacrifices to keep New Yorkers safe, and we are deeply grateful for their efforts. The Adams administration is proud to have set a record as the fastest mayoral administration in modern history to reach agreements with 90% of the unionized workforce. Once we receive a request to begin bargaining for this round, we look forward to working with the union on a voluntary agreement that is fair to workers and taxpayers.”
The union tells News 12 that it all boils down to two options: pay parity for its members or moving forward with arbitration.