Union pressure behind emergency services bill

Emergency workers at a Malibu auto accident on Pacific Coast Highway. (Photo: EGD, via Shutterstock)

Providers of emergency medical services across the state are opposing AB 263 authored by Assembly Member Freddie Rodriguez.  Under the pretense of an “Emergency Worker Bill of Rights,” AB 263 is nothing short of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The legislation  is a public union power play that is seeking to confuse the facts and misguide members of the Legislature and the public. AB 263 will do absolutely nothing to protect EMS workers from violent patients or improve their mental health; it will simply restrict or eliminate private EMS providers from operating in California.

AB 263 requires private emergency responders to release their employees from their duties even if it places public safety at risk.

The author claims that creating a list of patient attacks on private EMS employees will stop them from occurring. Theses types of attacks are already considered an enhanced crime and providers are currently required by law to report them to OSHA — yet attacks have not diminished.

Generally, patients who attack EMS workers are in an altered state due to injury, illness or intoxication, and we have an ethical responsibility to treat them. Creating a second list is great for news headlines and press releases, but it does nothing to solve the problem. What’s more, the author excluded public EMS employers from reporting attacks. Why?

Another misleading component of AB 263 regards wages. The claim that our workforce makes minimum wage is absolutely false. Our average California EMT salary is $43,000, with the top 10% earning $74,000; and our average paramedic salary is $71,000, with the top 10% earning $120,000. Minimum wage is approximately $22,000 a year.

What is fact is that when it comes to public safety, the standard practice of EMS is that the closest ambulance to an emergency responds.  The rationale behind this practice is patient care takes precedent to rest and meal breaks, always! AB 263 will prohibit this standard for private first responders.

AB 263 requires private emergency responders to release their employees from their duties even if it places public safety at risk. It allows private EMTs, paramedics, and emergency medical dispatchers to walk or drive away from their ambulances, station houses, or dispatch centers while on break. Even worse, AB 263 prevents break interruptions for Code 2 calls, which can include responses for sexual assault, difficulty breathing and broken bones. This defies all common sense and reason.

Moreover, our employees are paid for their entire shift, including breaks and meal periods. Under our current labor contracts, we have already agreed to pay an hour of compensation if a break or meal period is interrupted and not rescheduled, which only happens on 6% of meal periods and 1% of rest breaks. In fact, on an average 12-hour shift, eight hours are spent inactive.

Further, AB 263 is punitive in nature and heavily penalizes private – but not public – employers of EMS personnel for break interruptions during responses to disasters and other major medical emergencies. Under the requirements of AB 263, providers will literally be paying huge financial penalties during a response to a terrorist attack, an event that they neither caused nor are responsible for. During all the chaos that events like these can create, we will be required to schedule and work around rest breaks and meal periods, which simply defies logic.

If AB 263 becomes law in its current form it will place restrictions on private EMS providers that will be impossible to comply with, and make it unsustainable for us to continue to provide emergency services in numerous California counties. The wolf unveils himself of the sheep’s clothing.

Ed’s Note: Jason Sorrick is director of communications and government relations for American Medical Response.

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