When I started working as a precepting medic in 1995, I was making (I believe) $12 an hour, which may have gone up to $14 when I was cut loose six weeks later. I worked three 12’s and was often held after crew change, but never to the point of going over 40 hours for the week. Once in awhile an overtime possibility came up, but you had to really fight to get it. The owner of the company did not like to pay overtime. Also back then medics picked their partners and partners were very faithful to each other. People rarely called in sick because calling in sick meant your partner got jammed with someone they might not want to work with.
After the owner died, his son-in-law took over and overtime rules were eased a little bit. There was an overtime list you signed up for and if you were first on the list, you had a better chance obviously of getting overtime than if you were last. They posted the overtime sign-up sheet at seven in the morning. One of the suburban towns had an open shift every Sunday, so if you were first on the list, it was yours for the whole following month. One guy used to get there at an absurd time — like four in the morning so he could be first on the list. He drove a Cammaro with the license plate OT, or maybe he just called the car – OT. The years play with my memory. Anyway, I coveted the same OT so one night I got there at one in the morning like I was camping out for a concert or World Series tickets. He came in at four and was shocked to see three of us there already. “You all are sick,” he said.
When our company was sold, that’s when overtime really opened up. Instead of three 12’s with the partner of your choosing, most people worked four or five days a week in shifts ranging from 8 to 10 to 12 hours with a largely random partner and every six months the shifts were bid again. The economy was booming then, too, so the average working man or woman had plenty of opportunity to work other jobs. We pretty much had unlimited overtime. From empty spots in the schedule to people booking off, it was easy pickins. Make your own schedule. You could work seven days a week if you wanted and not have to commit to working a shift until the day of when they were frantically paging for people to come in and work. The bitch wasn’t lack of overtime, it was getting ordered in to work.
EMTs were making up to $60,000 a year, counting overtime. Medics could make $80,000 in their sleep, several topped $100,000. A senior medic by now was making $25-$26 or more an hour. That put overtime pay at $39-$40 an hour. I took great advantage of this. I benefited by working 2-12s and 1-16 in a suburban town, so I had four days a week to pick up overtime and wasn’t beat down on my regular days from the ravages of system-status-management where it seemed some days you spent your whole shift driving from post to post with knees pressed against the dashboard. I could take a few days of that but not all week. With three days on the suburban couch, I could do another three sitting scrunched in the ambulance. No way could I ever handle six like that.
Back when I started I was single, living in a $500 a month including utilities one bedroom apartment with a free health club on the premises. I was driving an old Ford and gas was $1.10 a gallon. I told myself then I would never get myself in a position where I had to work overtime to live. Making as much money as I did over the years in OT, I often faced the choice of moving up in the work ladder, but making less money for more work. Why be a supervisor for $50,000 when I could make twice that wearing a blue shirt? Why go to law school when I’d be tens of thousands in debt and making less money? I loved my job, and I was rolling in cash. I could have four days off a week or I could work seven days and make huge money doing what I loved. A great life.
While there have been periods over the years when overtime has dried up, it has only been temporary. Students come back from school and want to make some cash, but then end up blowing off work to go to the beach. The company puts through a new class of hires — only a few of whom stay around long.
See where I’m going with this.
Things have changed. It’s been getting harder and harder to get overtime. Some blame it on the scheduler. Playing favorites. Who knows? That may have something to do with it. Then there seems to be a shift in company policy. It seemed like it used to be the policy to let the full-timers do the overtime so the company didn’t have to hire more people, train them and pay benefits to where maybe the company realized they were spending too much on overtime. So maybe they decided let’s just hire a lot of part-timers. I mean a lot of part-timers. And let’s keep hiring them. And hiring them.
Everyday I see new faces, more and more of them, and not just our company, other companies, too. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of people with EMT cards these days. Some would say there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of people with pulses, but I won’t go that far. You take the class, you pass, you get your card, you put on a uniform and answer a call, you have my respect.
The thing of it is — the economy isn’t so good these days. People are happy to take on part-time jobs. And people who might have left for greener pastures are sticking around. With gas costing over $4 a gallon and everything else going up, people are taking part-time jobs not as a lark, but because they need the extra income just to pay their bills. And the full-timers, their bills are going up to, so there are alot of people competing for fewer and fewer open shifts.
I have a house and a mortgage now, and a family to take care. If I don’t work overtime, I have a serious negative cash flow. Most of us do.
So I’ve taken on a part-time job. I’m excited about it — it is EMS-related, but it is not on the street. I’ll still be working 40 street hours a week, doing calls, but I won’t be doing sixty or seventy street hours. Not any more. The part-time job will be my overtime.
Maybe it was time for me to cut back. I’ll be fifty before thirty days are out. The street wears a person down. I’m lucky to have this opportunity. And I’m sure whoever picks up the 8 or on a good week 16 hours extra OT I had been fighting for and getting lately (I’ve been fighting for more, but getting less) will be happy to see their name in the shift book instead of mine.