By Jennifer Gomori, MAP Editor

Jerald James has always enjoyed coming to the aid of others, so helping his fellow Detroit EMS co-workers resolve employment concerns was a natural transition for him. Now that he’s recently retired, James is taking his next step helping others as the newest MAP Labor Relations Specialist.

“The one thing that attracted me to the union when I started (Detroit EMS) in 1997 was witnessing employees rights not being honored or respected and watching co-workers or peers really struggle with their rights and their benefits and wages,” James said.

James represented EMS workers for nearly two decades through his various positions at Detroit EMS, including EMS Superintendent and his most recent position as EMS Captain. He begins his new career with MAP in September.

Labor Relations Specialist Jerald James

“Once I crossed into the union world, it became very rewarding to me to win a grievance or have a phone call and get some stuff straightened out,” he said. “It made the job dually rewarding - I was delivering babies and ... getting peoples’ jobs back when they were wrongly discharged. For a lot of people you end up saving their life or their careers when no one else would or could.”

James was a Michigan Association of Fire Fighters (MAFF) Union Steward since 2014, when EMS Supervisors joined MAFF. Now MAFF representatives are hoping EMTs and Paramedics will join the union as well.

“I was actually the union president for the group when we affiliated with MAFF,” James said. “To me, it was a natural transition. I really liked what I’m doing - I wouldn’t change it. I think this is a nice group of guys I’m dealing with too,” he said of the Labor Relations Specialists.

His union career track began in 1997 as Union Steward with International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). He climbed the ranks to Chief Steward from 1998-2002 and President from 2002-05. In 2005, he was promoted to Lieutenant, and in 2007 became President of EMS Officers Association, a group not affiliated with any organized union.

James made history during his EMS union era, leading the way to the largest settlement with the City of Detroit in EMS history. Twenty-one Detroit EMS workers, who were certified in as Paramedics, were not being paid the rate negotiated in the contract. “The prior Superintendent said he wouldn’t pay them that rate,” James said. So EMS union officials filed for arbitration and James was part of the team who found the documentation needed to prove the rate should be paid. When he told the city they stood to lose about a half million dollars with this evidence, they settled the matter for $285,000.

“I had a friend at the City County building I asked for certification documents on some of these guys. I got three. They did not know we had that paperwork,” James said.

James was promoted to EMS Superintendent in 2010, the highest position in the organization, and stayed until 2014. When he left the job to become a Captain in February 2014, James said, “They made me President of EMS Officers Association again the day after I stepped down.” By April 2014, the Officers had to become affiliated with an organized union due to the Detroit Bankruptcy proceedings so they chose MAFF.

The bankruptcy took its toll on James. “After the bankruptcy, there were a lot of political moves that were made,” he said. “It just didn’t appear to be conducive any longer. The bankruptcy really took a lot of time away from the family and I missed a lot of family events and it became more and more taxing.”

And it isn’t like James and his wife, Donnella, are strangers to working hard. They both maintained full-time jobs coupled with part-time jobs while raising four children. Donnella, also a Detroit EMS Captain, is retiring along with her husband. She is planning to continue working a part-time nursing position at St. John Medical Center in Detroit, a position she has held for the past 15 years.

James worked part-time positions as a patient care attendant at Grace Hospital’s psychiatric unit from 2000-2003 and with the substance abuse detox unit at Salvation Army from 2003-2007. “I had a couple of friends that were doing it and it just became an extension of what I did from being an EMT on an ambulance,” he said. “With our work schedule, I had extra days off every week. Salvation Army was a very rewarding opportunity - I would do that again for free.”

But after the couple’s fourth baby arrived in 2007, they needed to slow down a little and James gave up the part-time work. However, that didn’t stop him from volunteering. James was a coach with the Detroit Knights, a national youth football league, for 10 years, taking his son’s team to the National Championship at Disneyworld. Six of the kids he coached are now on college football teams.

James knows union officials have some tough issues to face in the near future. “One of the bigger issues is the anti-union push that has been circulating throughout the state in the last few years,” he said. “It’s been very difficult for unions to push forward. The presidential election is obviously going to be a big one. What’s going to happen with the local governor’s race will really dictate whether the unions have a leg to stand on ... it’s really going to be a challenge for any union, not just this one.”

In the meantime, James has been busy getting to know the issues specific to the membership by going to different arbitrations and mediations with Labor Relations Specialists Ron Palmquist, Joe O’Connor and James Steffes.
“It will be interesting, but it will be fun,” James said looking forward - as he has a solid history of doing - at the different ways he can help others