Calif. AMR employees report management harassment, misconduct

Staff members said that "for a very long time," AMR Victorville division employees have undergone rampant physical and verbal abuse by supervisors

By Paola Baker
Daily Press

VICTORVILLE, Calif. — Amidst multiple alleged incidents, local emergency medical professionals are concerned by what they see as a lack of response and push back from an ambulance provider here for those willing to come forward while protecting the accused.

Severe issues of harassment by management staff at American Medical Response (AMR) Victorville division were allegedly brought to light by the local branch of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics Union, or IAEP Local R12-152, on Monday.

"We've been dealing with this for a very long time," Local R12-152 vice president and AMR Emergency Medical Technician Michael Romero said. "No one wants to work here because of management."

In a statement Monday and in interviews with the Daily Press, the union outlined several alleged incidents of harassment and misconduct—such as inappropriate jokes, remarks about sexual orientation, and rampant physical and verbal abuse—by supervisors toward employees dating as far back as 2010.

The most recent incident occurred in mid-February, with a pregnant employee reporting to union leaders that a supervisor had struck her on the back of the head.

"She told the supervisor, 'That is assault,' and the supervisor just laughed and said, 'Oh no, it's battery,'" Romero said. "Management thinks they can do whatever they want and think everything is just a big joke."

Another report alleges an employee was "brought to tears after enduring verbal abuse and intimidating behavior" by the same supervisor. AMR launched an investigation into the claims in mid-February.

The investigation was closed by March 9, according to the union, and the supervisor in question was rumored to have been promoted to a different division.

"We don't know if they're taking action or plan on taking action," Local R12-152 Union President Adam Verduzco said. "And the problem is, they say the investigation is closed, but the behavior continues."

AMR Director of Communications and Government Relations Jason Sorrick said the company could not disclose details of an internal investigation, unless the employee in question is terminated.

"We thoroughly investigated the union's complaints, and have issued corrective action in those cases where the facts substantiated the claim," Sorrick said. "AMR takes all accusations of harassment seriously and we work hard to ensure a safe working environment for our employees."

Yet the union claims nothing is done to the alleged perpetrators, with many remaining at their posts, oftentimes in close proximity to their supposed victims.

"We still have to deal with these people, and then they turn it around on the victim," said Romero, who claimed he was sexually harassed by a supervisor.

Retaliation from management is also a factor, according to Romero, Verduzco, and several other employees at AMR's Victorville division—with some taken to task for seemingly minor infractions, such as taking too much time to fill out incident reports, according to several employees who wished to remain anonymous.

"We've never had a problem with [incident reports] before," one employee said. "It just feels like they're coming after us and grasping at straws to try to bully us."

Some spoke about how management staff encourages an environment where bullying from the top down is commonplace, exacerbated by the company "dragging their feet" when it comes to correcting management's actions.

"There are separate rules for management, which are less harsh than for employees," AMR employee and former IAEP president Eric Van Sant said.

Yet Sorrick strongly denied many of these claims, stating that many of the union's allegations were made "years after the alleged event occurred, which limited our ability to validate the facts of the case."

"Unlike the union, AMR would never send out a press release or use a media campaign in an effort to shame an employee because we did not agree with the outcome of an investigation," Sorrick said.

The process AMR uses to investigate and discipline management is the same as the protocol used for non-management staff, Sorrick said.

"The fact is, AMR has a legal obligation to ensure a fair and impartial review of harassment allegations, and that applies to both the accuser and the accused," Sorrick said. "The union's actions in this case are not only unprofessional; we believe they will likely negatively impact our ability to investigate claims in the future."

But any future action by AMR may be too little too late for the local IAEP branch.

"It's awful that AMR thinks they can get away with it," Romero said. "EMTs and paramedics serve the community every day, and we love what we do. We can't let them win."

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