SPIED: Union negotiators on Wednesday found an alleged listening device in a smoke detector, seen in this photo provided for the Herald, at a conference room in West Hartford, Conn., during a bargaining session with American Medical Response.
Contract negotiations between American Medical Response and its union of paramedics and EMTs stalled this week when a concealed camera and listening device were found under a smoke detector in the conference room the company instructed the union to use.
"We were very upset. All of us felt betrayed," said James Gambone, one of the union negotiators present who discovered the device. "AMR, from our perspective, has a nationwide anti-union philosophy. They drag out negotiations and fight us every step of the way."
More than 20 cities and towns around Boston use AMR for ambulance services, including Newton, Framingham, Plymouth and Waltham. The company has 1,000 employees in Massachusetts. The negotiations covered the company's 250 Connecticut workers, who are currently without a contract.
In a statement to employees, AMR general manager Sean Piendel said the device was installed to combat vandalism and theft and compared it to a "baby monitor." He said the company has a right to use the equipment on its property.
"We do not use these devices to monitor union negotiations and we have never done so," Piendel said. He did not return calls to his home yesterday seeking further comment; calls yesterday to several AMR spokespeople were also not returned.
Gambone, the lead labor relations representative with the National Emergency Medical Services Association, said after the device was discovered Wednesday the union gave the firm a chance to respond, photographed the unit, then called the West Hartford Police Department. Town police chief James Strillacci is investigating.
"We did send an officer there," he said. "There's a report in progress. It is not completed yet."
Piendel stated in his memo that the company is cooperating with the police investigation. In addition to calling police, Gambone filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which could prompt a federal probe.
Gambone said discussions were expected to conclude within a week but have been forced off company grounds, delaying negotiations that are critical to hundreds of EMTs and paramedics.
"This is a new low," Gambone said. "We came to the bargaining table ready to work together and find a contract that both the union and employer could agree to."