AUSTIN (KXAN) — Negotiating new pay for the first time in four years, the City of Austin received some major blowback after offering a 14 cent raise for entry-level employees in Austin’s emergency medical services department.

According to the Austin EMS Association, 26% of its staff are considered low income. In a statement, the city said a pay study found the maximum pay for Austin EMTs and paramedics is higher “than that of comparable agencies when you adjust wages for regional costs.” Austin EMS Association said that is not true.

Selena Xie, president of the association, said the sticking point in city negotiations is the starting wage of $19.56 per hour.

“We have a lot of medics who work here that have not worked here that long, she said. “All of those medics are making these poverty wages.”

The association asked for that base pay to be increased to $27 per hour – and they believe the city’s counteroffer of $19.70 per hour falls short.

“Why do we think that a 14 cent increase will do anything to help us recruit more people?” Xie said.

The new EMS cadet class has only 17 members, falling fall short of its full 30.

“We have already hit our breaking point with how much mandatory overtime we’re forced to work, and so the department has shifted into downing some ambulances,” Xie said.

A City of Austin spokesperson, in a statement provided to KXAN last week, described their offer as an “unprecedented pay package.”

Our total package was a 51% increase in new money compared to the last contract they approved (in 2018). The entry-level pay for Paramedics would be more than 5% higher than any other governmental entity in Texas,” the spokesperson said.

“The Union raised concerns about staffing shortages and overtime. We addressed those issues head-on, offering to hire directly into the paramedic rank. Our offer would have aided in reducing the existing vacancies. It is surprising that the union chose to hold off on prioritizing their members’ work life balance.

Right now, EMS employees receive pay increases based on their tenure with the department. Using the current pay structure, over the next four years, the offer on the table would provide a 15% increase to 70% of the employees and a 24% pay increase to 29% of the employees. Our Paramedics are the amongst the highest paid in the nation by the end of their career.”

According to the city, it offered a 2% base wage increase in the first year, with a total base wage increase of 8% over four years. In the first year, the lowest-paid employee would get a 39-cent raise, while others would get more than $1 an hour raise, not including “additional pay increases based on the employees’ tenure with the department.”

With both sides still so far apart, the City of Austin and the EMS association will meet with a federal mediator in May.