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Prop 11: Yes, With Reservations

Proposition 11 would require private-sector emergency ambulance personnel to remain on call during meal breaks and rest periods.

Proposition 11 would require private-sector emergency ambulance personnel to remain on call during meal breaks and rest periods.

This sounds difficult to disagree with, but once we unpack the implications for workers things become significantly murkier. So allow me, a former firefighter and paramedic with experience in both private- and public-sector emergency services, briefly to explain.

Proposition 11 would apply only to private-sector employees — we’re not talking about LAFD here — and while private ambulance companies are in fact responsible for 911 service in about 75% of the state, these private companies also do a lot of other things, and what’s really at issue is what we mean by “emergency” as defined in Prop 11:

“(a) ‘Emergency ambulance employee’ means a person who meets both of the following requirements:

(1) Is an emergency medical technician (EMT), dispatcher, paramedic, or other licensed or certified ambulance transport personnel who contributes to the delivery of ambulance services; and

(2) Is employed by an emergency ambulance provider.

(b) ‘Emergency ambulance provider’ means an employer that provides ambulance services; but shall not include the state or any political subdivision thereof, in its capacity as the direct employer of a person meeting the description contained in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a).”

You’re meant to think Prop 11 applies only to private ambulance personnel waiting for 911 calls — paramedics with significantly more training than EMTs, and yes in that case there is usually plenty of downtime over the course of a shift. But my reading of the proposed statute is that it equally applies to all employees of private ambulance companies, even dispatchers and those EMTs transporting patients to and from hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis centers in non-emergency situations.

And I can tell you from experience that those transports will run you ragged all day long, every day because the normal profit motive applies. They can, and often will, fill every moment of your 12-hour shift.

The sole supporter of Prop 11 is American Medical Response (AMR), the private ambulance company, who has thus far contributed $23 million. And they’ve done this because they are facing pending lawsuits brought by their employees, which Prop 11 would retroactively nullify.

The problem is that AMR and others will not eat the costs if they’re required to increase staffing levels to cover meal and rest breaks. They will charge more for municipal contracts, or they will increase their response times in those contracts, and we will all be worse off for it. So yes, we almost certainly should vote yes on Prop 11, even with the unintended consequence that we’re likely fucking over the vast majority of paramedics and EMTs in the private ambulance industry.

As a final word, it’s worth remembering that there is no formal opposition to Prop 11.