ALLEN-PRICE: Now this is one of those props that is so specific and kind of in the weeds that it makes me think that there must be a story behind it.
DEMBOSKY: You are absolutely right. So here's the status quo of how it works for ambulance drivers. They are on a 12-hour shift. You know, they're responding to emergencies. Maybe they have a lull. They drive up to McDonald's or Starbucks to take a break.
JASON BROLLINI: If I'm lucky, I can sit for 30 minutes and get a meal.
ALLEN-PRICE: This is Jason Brollini. He leads one of the main ambulance drivers unions.
BROLLINI: What a more common experience is, we order our food, and we're interrupted at some point. Sometimes those interruptions are for true emergencies, but sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're non-emergency calls where there isn't a life-threatening incident that needs to be mitigated.
DEMBOSKY: This is the way it's been working in California for many, many years. But in 2016, there was a court case in California, and it was actually on behalf of security guards. Security guards also have to be on duty while they take breaks. And they said, "Hey, if I have to be on duty, I'm not actually on break." And the Supreme Court agreed with them, said yep, when you look at California's labor code, if you want to have a break, you have to actually be off duty. And so the ambulance industry looked at this and they thought, "Oh no, this is going to apply to us, too." And so they said we don't want to do that. We're going to have this proposition instead to try to carve out a law that is specifically for paramedics and EMTs to just continue doing their job the way they always have.
ALLEN-PRICE: So this is really a preemptive proposition.
DEMBOSKY: Sort of because there were actually negotiations in the Legislature between ambulance companies and the unions who represent EMTs and paramedics. They tried to address this head on, and negotiations between those two parties broke down, and that's why the ambulance industry then put Proposition 11 on the ballot.
ALLEN-PRICE: So ambulance drivers and workers, what's their take on this?
DEMBOSKY: The ambulance staff, for the most part, says totally, we don't want anybody getting hurt. If I'm on my lunch break and there's a kid choking a couple blocks down the street...
BROLLINI: We are going to go to that call. 100 percent of the time.
DEMBOSKY: But at the same time, they're saying we work these 12-hour shifts. Sometimes work is so busy that it's six or seven hours before I get to take a lunch break.
BROLLINI: Starting to get dizzy and lightheaded because my blood sugar is low.
DEMBOSKY: Not only that, I just responded to this really stressful call, like, I could really use a few minutes to just decompress, get back to my baseline, eat some food. And so they want the workers to be at the top of their game.
ALLEN-PRICE: You know, why is the ambulance industry different from any other industry where people are entitled to a break? What makes them kind of unique here?
DEMBOSKY: Well it's definitely the public safety issue, you know.
ALLEN-PRICE: While it is public safety, about 75 percent of California’s 911 calls are answered by private companies. Carol Meyer works for McCormick Ambulance Service.
CAROL MEYER: There is an individual who has a heart attack, and we can’t call that vehicle, we have to call the next vehicle that is available and not on a break. And minutes make a big difference when it’s life and death.
DEMBOSKY: Most ambulance companies have contracts with the counties where they work. You know, part of what they're concerned about is that if you have one or two ambulances from your fleet that are just totally out of service, that could compromise how well and how quickly you can respond to those calls.
MEYER: Having those vehicles available so that if something happens they can be called is critical.
DEMBOSKY: So there's a serious public safety issue, but it really does come down to money, and the Legislative Analyst's Office estimated costs could go up 25 percent in order to have just enough extra ambulances on the road to cover people. And so when you start looking at cutting into those profit margins, you have these companies deciding whether or not it's worth it for them to continue providing this service.
ALLEN-PRICE: So in a nutshell, a yes vote on Prop 11 would mean you think EMTs and paramedics should stay on call during their breaks. A no vote means in your eyes, ambulance companies should follow the same labor laws as everybody else. Next up is Proposition 4, one of the four bonds on the ballot this year. Now a bond is basically an IOU. The state sells a piece of paper that says if you give us the money we need now, we promise to pay you back later with interest. It's a quick way for governments to get cash for big projects, and it's a pretty safe investment for the people buying the bonds, too. Health reporter Laura Klivans explains what this bond, Proposition 4, would do.