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Proposition 11 – Private Ambulance Employees and Work Breaks

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General Election, November 06, 2018


California employers are required to follow various labor laws, including rules about the state minimum wage, overtime, health and safety in the workplace, and meal and rest breaks. State law requires most employers to provide an unpaid 30-minute meal break during each work shift and a paid 10-minute rest break every four hours.

In 2016, the California Supreme Court ruled that “on-call” breaks violate state labor law because employees are not completely relieved of all duty when they are required to remain on-call. Instead, employers must provide breaks that are off-duty and not interruptible, even if an emergency occurs. The decision was Augustus v. ABM Security Services. The case involved private security guards whose employer required that they keep their radios on during breaks.

In practice, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics who work on ambulances are “on call” for their entire work shift in case they receive an emergency call. This means that employees must remain reachable by radio or other communication technology and, as a result, their breaks are sometimes interrupted by emergency calls.

Before the Augustus decision was issued, EMTs and paramedics had filed several similar lawsuits against private ambulance companies. These lawsuits are still pending.  The Augustus decision suggests that the practice of requiring EMTs and paramedics to stay on call during breaks is against the law. Private ambulance companies may now owe penalties for these past violations.

Proposition 11 proposes to change the work break laws that apply to private-sector EMTs and paramedics.  It does not apply to individuals who work for public agencies, such as fire departments.

Proposition 11 specifies that EMTs and paramedics must remain “on-call” and reachable by a portable communications device during their shift, including meal and rest periods.  If an employee s contacted during a meal or rest period, that period shall not be counted towards their meal and rest period entitlement.

In addition to requiring on-call meal and rest breaks going forward, Proposition 11 states that the past industry practice of on-call meal and rest breaks was lawful.  This could eliminate costs that the private ambulance companies may face related to pending or future lawsuits.

Proposition 11 also requires ambulance companies to offer EMTs and paramedics (1) annual natural disaster, active shooter, and violence prevention training; (2) mental health and wellness education; (3) mental health counseling sessions; and (4) access to long-term mental health services.

A YES vote on Proposition 11 means private ambulance companies could continue their current practice of requiring EMTs and paramedics to stay on-call during their meal and rest breaks in order to respond to emergencies.

A NO vote on Proposition 11 means that such companies would be subject to existing laws related to meal and rest breaks and, based on a recent court decision, may be required to provide employees with completely off-duty breaks that cannot be interrupted by an emergency call.

Fiscal Impact:

According to the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), Proposition 11 would likely result in a fiscal benefit to local governments (in the form of lower costs and higher revenues), potentially in the tens of millions of dollars each year.

CCC Position:

No position.

Reflections on Church Teaching:

“Just as God ‘rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,’ human life has a rhythm of work and rest.  The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.”  Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2184.

“Business activity must always include the element of gratuitousness. Fair relationships between managers and workers must be respected and demanded by all parties; but at the same time, an enterprise is a community of work in which everyone deserves fraternal respect and appreciation from their superiors, co-workers and subordinates. Respect for the other as brother or sister must also extend to the local community in which the enterprise is physically located, and in a certain sense, all of the enterprise’s legal and economic relationships must be moderated, enveloped in a climate of respect and fraternity.” - Pope Francis, 2017

“Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’.”  Saint Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), September 14, 1981.

“Another sector regarding benefits is the sector associated with the right to rest. In the first place this involves a regular weekly rest comprising at least Sunday, and also a longer period of rest, namely the holiday or vacation taken once a year or possibly in several shorter periods during the year.”  Saint Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), September 14, 1981.