Why AMR opposition is part of the legislative process for the EMS Workers Bill of Rights

California legislators need to hear from the state's 75,000 EMS providers in support of, or opposed to the EMS Workers Bill of Rights

The furor is growing over whether privately-employed EMS providers who provide emergency response and transport should receive meal breaks in California. In early 2017, Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez introduced the EMS Workers Bill of Rights to establish legislative language involving meal breaks, rest periods, assault tracking and mental health services for California EMS providers.

Over the past few months, Assembly Bill 263 has been reviewed and amended in the assembly; before being passed to the Senate where it received its first reading on June 1.

Meaningful laws and regulations rarely pass through the legislative process without controversy. Debate and discourse mean there is much at stake for one or more affected stakeholders. In legislation, such as the EMS Workers Bill of Rights, it is expected that strong support come from labor leaders who are paid by their membership to protect employee working rights and safety.

Likewise, strong opposition would come from employers who must maintain a bottom line to continue providing equipment, materials, wages and benefits for their staff. These constituencies work with their legislators to achieve a compromise that realizes at least part of the bill's intent.

It is sausage making at its finest, and why we depend on smart, passionate representatives to work out their differences.

Public opinion on EMS Workers Bill of Rights

Then there is the virtual town square known as social media, where people air their grievances and sometimes spout off their opinions without consideration or forethought. These tidbits of indignation, personal insult and vitriol are fun to read, but ineffective to the process. A simple example is the common conclusion that the proposed law would have EMS providers on a break just sitting idly by in their unit when an emergency call comes in. Sorry, but that's not what the bill provides for.

Another example is that this bill would somehow automatically increase the wages of EMS providers. Nope, it doesn't do that either.

Take a moment to read the bill. It simply provides a roadmap for creating a more respectful work environment for the field providers. It establishes the basis that EMS providers in the private sector are workers who – like others in private industry – are entitled to rest and meal breaks.

Does this mean that they’ll get rest and meal breaks every shift? Of course not. But the bill requires employers to provide appropriate safety breaks when possible.

Addressing safety concerns

Moreover, the EMS Workers Bill of Rights will help to provide additional resources to EMS field workers affected by the stressful conditions of the job, from physical assaults to mental health. The body of evidence for these two safety areas continues to grow, but still remains sparse. It's vital to understand the level and nature of these issues before the industry can address them effectively.

There's a lot of positive intent in AB 263. The political sausage making is well underway. If you are a California EMS provider, I urge you to reach out to your state legislator to express your support or opposition to the bill. With more than 75,000 of us in the state, our voices need to be heard clearly and directly by those who will make it happen, and not simply wasted in the internet ether.

Disclosure: I am employed by American Medical Response in Sonoma County, Calif. I am proud to be associated with this incredible group of individuals who work hard every day to provide quality patient and customer care to their community.

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