Proposition 11 on the Nov. 6 ballot would make clear that emergency medical technicians and paramedics working for private ambulance services must remain reachable during paid work breaks so that they can respond immediately when needed. It’s a sensible proposal that would maintain the status quo among emergency responders, and voters should support it.
The standard operating procedure for half a century has been that police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other emergency responders remain on call during paid meal and rest breaks. It’s a downside of this line of work that one may be interrupted mid-burger, but the occasional inconvenience is balanced by the often significant downtime between emergency calls.
This approach was thrown into question, however, after a security guard working for a private company sued for the right to turn off her radio during breaks. The California Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 2016, holding that requiring security guards to remain reachable during breaks violated state labor laws. Within months a number of paramedics and EMTs filed lawsuits claiming the ruling should apply to private ambulance services as well, even though these employees typically sign contracts agreeing to remain on call during breaks in exchange for pay and a break later.
Concerned about the cost and the ability to respond quickly to medical emergencies, companies such as American Medical Response, which contracts with more than a dozen of California’s counties to provide emergency medical service, pushed for legislation to preserve the current practice. Otherwise, the state’s legislative analyst estimated, these companies would collectively have to spend up to $100 million a year on the extra staff and ambulances needed to cover the gaps when EMTs and paramedics go dark on breaks. Private companies provide about 75% of the ambulance service in the state, and the cost would likely be passed on to local governments and private insurers — and their customers.
But the proposed bill died in 2017 when the unions representing private ambulance workers objected, worried that the measure would wipe out their members’ lawsuits. The unions say their members don’t have a problem remaining on call during paid work breaks, the same as other emergency responders, but they want to retain the right to seek compensation from their employers for imposing this requirement in the past.
AMR, the company that stands to lose the most, then spent millions of dollars to put essentially the same proposal on the ballot as Proposition 11. And even the union representing paramedics and EMTs is holding its fire; there is no formal opposition to the measure. (The public agencies that provide their own emergency medical services, such as the Los Angeles Fire Department, would not be affected by this ballot measure because it applies just to private-sector ambulance companies.)