Voters Beware: There’s a Dirty Little Secret Behind Prop 11

My friends,

This is a difficult article to write; simply, because it is political. What I have to say is in regard to Proposition 11 on the California ballot. Perhaps you've heard the commercials that speak of paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) staying on call during breaks and lunches so they can respond to 911 calls during an emergency. The advertisement states this legislation will better prepare responders with training to deal with active-shooter scenarios. It also mentions that this ballot measure, if passed, will help provide first responders with treatment for PTSD.

This all sounds good, right?

Would you like to know what this legislation really does? The primary sponsor and money backer for this legislation is my old employer American Medical Response. It is one of the largest emergency healthcare providers in the country. Since 2006 it has been fighting a battle against a lawsuit brought by employees of American Medical Response against the company.

As it turns out, American Medical Response has been violating California wage law by not giving mandated breaks and lunch periods to employees, especially dispatchers, paramedics, nurses and EMTs.

In my 32 years of service with AMR I have walked away from hundreds of meals that I started to eat and had to abandon to respond to a call; emergency or routine, it did not matter. Many shifts I have worked 24 hours straight, sometimes without meals, breaks or rest. It is rare for any unit to ever go out of service to get a meal, but if that were to happen, the other 911 units would pick up the slack. At no time was the public without a medic or EMT in their time of need because someone was eating lunch, or on a break.

So what is Proposition 11 really about? This is the dirty little secret. The employees have been attempting to get class certification in the California Courts since around 2006. There is little contention that American Medical Response has been violating California labor law at the expense of their employees. AMR has spent millions to defend against this litigation that has been in the courts for years. It finally made it to the California Appellate Court. The Court of Appeals reversed a trial judge's decision that class-action status could not be granted for a missed break. It was then sent back to the trial court. That court then correctly ruled that class-action status would be granted. As employees and former employees of AMR, we were notified by the trial court that class action status had been granted and we would have our day in court early next year.

So now you might wonder, how did this morph into California Proposition 11? Well, if you read the fine print on Proposition 11 you will find that if passed it will change California labor law so that American Medical Response will not have to pay employees in the future any monies for meals or breaks missed. They will be paid the same wage for a 12 or 24-hour shift, whether that employee gets a lunch or a break or not.

But it gets worse. This legislation also releases American Medical Response from approximately 110,000,000 in liabilities for breaks missed. Now there is the dirty, dirty secret. You didn't read that in the Proposition 11 headlines, did you?

So here is the lesson that AMR (American Medical Response) is teaching: Beat us in court and we will try and fool the people of California with sneaky and cleverly slick legislation that will relieve us from all financial liability by changing labor law.

Will you please share this with your friends? And please consider voting against Proposition 11.

Lastly, this was difficult to write. Did I enjoy working for AMR, both as an RN and Paramedic? That answer is yes. This letter is by no means a slam against all of the fine people that I have worked with in EMS. It is really about sitting at home listing to pro-Proposition 11 advertising and not being to stomach the big white lie. I am truly sad to have to write this.

Thank you, friends, for your consideration in this matter. Now, please vote. I just provided some food for thought. And also, your vote is yours alone. I respect that!

Ted Blankenheim
Ted Blankenheim is graduate of Shasta High School and Shasta Community College in Redding. He's also a graduate of Stanford Pre-Hospital Care Program and Regents College. His employment includes work as a legal nurse consultant, a critical care RN, a mobile intensive care paramedic and fire chief. He is the founder of "Bikes for Kids."   His belief system is, "Pay it forward and share the love".
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15 Responses

  1. George Parker says:

    This doesn’t surprise me, and is exactly what I thought it was from reading the proposition. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Beverly Stafford says:

    As almost a rule of thumb, I vote No on propositions. Proposition 11 fit that bill.

  3. Robert Scheide Sr. says:

    Thanks, I read it correctly. A company I worked for did the same thing. I was operating a power plant 1 man plant and they ordered us to stand down for lunch. Asked what if the plant falls down while I am eating..No answer. The very next day I was eating lunch and of course, the plant fell down. I continued eating, of course, the phone started ringing. Sorry I am at lunch. Put the plant back together, are you paying and they said yes. I did and never heard the no pay for lunch again.

  4. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    I’m persuaded by the arguments against Proposition 11 but find this particular argument a bit opaque.

    First of all, the union representing 4,000 ambulance workers supported the similar AB263, which prescribed that those workers could be required to monitor communications devices during their breaks—and could be required to answer emergency calls. There were provisions to compensate the workers for that. The Assembly passed that bill on a 56-17 vote last year.

    The bill stalled in the state Senate over two issues: (1) whether the interruptions could include less serious calls; and (2) whether the legislation should void pending labor-related lawsuits against AMR, which the author points out is funding Prop. 11.

    It’s primarily for the latter reason that I’ll be voting “no.” I don’t think a pending lawsuit should be voided by a proposition written and funded by the defendant—I read the text of the proposition to be sure that it does void the lawsuit, and sure enough, it does. The rest of the proposition doesn’t look out of line.

    About the opaqueness of this article: How much of that $110 million liability potentially voided by this initiative would the author stand to bank as his cut should it be awarded in court? He worked for AMR for 32 years—that’s a lotta meals and breaks. A conservative back-of-the-envelope calculation* puts it at well over $100,000. I’m not saying that’s the amount, but I AM saying it’s likely that order of magnitude.

    *Calculation:
    32 years at 2,040 hours per year (no overtime) = 65,280 hours
    1 hour of meals & breaks per 8-hour shift = 13% of total hours = 8,160 hours
    Median $16/hour wage x 8,160 hours = $130,560

    (As I understand it, the basis of the lawsuit is that the workers were never truly off-duty, regardless of whether or not they took breaks and meals that were not interrupted.)

    Full disclosure: I am openly hostile to the initiative process. It’s been hijacked by special-interest groups—this proposition being a shining example. A ridiculous fraction of the state budget is obligated by past propositions, and there ain’t Jack-scheisse that the legislature or the governor can do about it. People wonder why there’s no money in the state budget for mitigating wildfire risks, and why funding of our world-class public university system is flat? Here’s the short answer: (1) Propositions, and (2) the prison-industrial complex.

    • Bruce Vojtecky says:

      Steve, not to disagree with you but California’s world class university system funding is more at threat from the $215, or $240, million lawsuits concerning Dr. George Tyndale.
      Propositions are a bane on state funding, that is why some states, like Wyoming, limit them despite oppositions from the left that it curtails free speech. In Wyoming to get anything on the ballot such as propositions a certain percentage of voters in each district has to sign the petition. Legal MMJ is an example. The backers could get the percentage of voters from Laramie and Jackson Hole, but they couldn’t in other counties. That gives voice to the low population counties just like the Senate gives voice to the low population states.
      And you make a very good point, especially in today’s mindset, about the prison complex.
      Moving from Wyoming to Arizona has put me in the land of propositions and their false claims.

    • Ted Blankenheim Ted Blankenheim says:

      Hey Steven, the litigation goes back to the year 2004, not the 32 years I worked for AMR. I worked a 24 hour shifts on average. The way I understand it only one penalty per shift is allowed under state labor law. So if a lawsuit prevails then I will see pennies on the dollar regardless.

      The purpose of this legislation is most certainly to eliminate the employees day in court. AMR violated the law. Under the concept of legislation like this we have shaved time off criminal sentencing, get the picture? So, AMR violated the law. Now they fund a proposition to change the law and go retroactive. What is not to get here? So how could have AMR made sure employees get fair breaks or a meal? Simple, follow the law, Staff up a supervisor car with an EMT ant rotate staff through their breaks or lunch. The penalty that other agencies get is overtime for lunch missed. Even the CHP gets paid an extra half hour on their shift weather they get paid or not. I bought I will ever see a penny, regardless I would have written the same letter if there was no monetary component to me. The rest of the proposition is fraudulent in nature. It is just cleverly written so the average person doesn’t get it. And, I have never avoided a call to get a lunch or break. I have worked many a shift with no down time, meals, or breaks. You are certainly correct about never being off duty. I could write for an hour about everything the legislation for prop 11 says that is nonsense. I just don’t have the time. I drink at downtown Starbucks in the mornings about five days a week. If you want a cup of coffee I’ll take the time. Thanks for reading.

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        As an aside, my retired-pharmacist husband worked most of his career in hospitals. When we moved back to California from Alaska, he worked in retail for three different drugstores. Pharmacists did not have lunch breaks. I packed a lunch for him, and he ate on the fly, catch as catch can. After he retired, he did relief work for various pharmacies. He came home wide-eyed after working his first shift at Costco because he was “forced” to take a lunch break plus a morning and afternoon break. Very civilized.

  5. AJ AJ says:

    Ted . . . . thank you for the information. It’s all so confusing . . . . and, of course, that’s pretty much what big money bets on!!

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