By Cullen Browder, WRAL presenter/reporterFor nearly two years, WRAL Investigates has been covering the mental…
The Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday to raise the minimum wage for private hospital workers to $25 an hour, rather than sending the issue to the November ballot for voters to decide.
The wage requirement will cover a wide range of workers, including nurses, aides, housekeepers, caretakers, janitors and other employees who are not supervisors or managers.
“Burnout and traumatized by the pandemic, many feel disrespected and undervalued and have left the profession, and others plan to leave soon,” said SEIU-UHW, a union that represents California healthcare workers, in a press release. “Raising the minimum wage helps recognize their vital, vital work and retain workers for future health care needs in Los Angeles.”
The measure will apply to private health care facilities in the city, including acute care hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and clinics or skilled nursing facilities that are part of those hospitals.
The union, SEIU-UHW, had collected enough signatures to push the measure through the November ballot. LA City Council members then had the option of taking the decision to voters in November — or simply passing the measure. At Tuesday’s meeting, representatives from local hospitals and business groups urged the board to wait and leave the decision to voters.
“We urge economic analysis to better understand the impacts on the city, workers, health care providers and the economy,” said Denise Kniter, policy manager at the Los Angeles County Business Federation.
Instead, council members voted 10 to 2 to go ahead with the pay measure, with council members Paul Krekorian and Joe Buscaino voting against. Council member John Lee recused himself from Tuesday’s vote because he sits on the West Hills Hospital board, according to his deputy chief of staff, Brenton Tesler.
“Today we have an opportunity to support our healthcare workers – those who have been on the front lines of this pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk,” said council member Curren Price, who decided to adopt the measure.
Hospital representatives argued that the measure was arbitrary and unfair because it did not cover workers at all health care facilities in Los Angeles. A coalition opposed to the wage measure said it would exclude employees from 90% of city health facilities, increase costs and drive workers away from health facilities that serve disadvantaged Angelenos.
“This is an incredibly, incredibly flawed measure,” said Adena Tessler, LA County regional vice president for the Southern California Hospital Association. “People doing the same job in two different facilities” – perhaps a few miles apart – “are not paid the same”.
A representative from Kaiser Permanente Southern California said the move would hurt the entire health care system in Los Angeles, especially community clinics and public health facilities. “They will be faced with the daunting choice of raising their minimum wage dramatically to compete for the very limited workforce – or settling for fewer staff and widening the pay gap,” said Yesenia Monsour, Senior Director of Regional Government and Community Relations. “The impact on the health of your communities is at stake.”
In response to questions about the facilities included, SEIU-UHW spokeswoman Renée Saldaña said “the city government cannot legally set rates for county and state employees.” Other efforts are underway at the state level to fund increased wages at community clinics, which “have not made record profits during the pandemic,” Saldaña said.
Hospital workers testified and urged the board to pass the measure, arguing that higher wages are needed for employees who have faced the grueling demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and punishing inflation. Registered vocational nurse Daniel Franquez said: “We risk our lives every day.”
“We expose ourselves to COVID every day. We keep patients alive every day. We’re worth $25 an hour,” said Franquez, who works at Southern California Hospital in Hollywood. “But today, by flipping burgers in some fast food restaurants, you can earn more than many healthcare workers earn.”
During the pandemic, “I’m putting my life on the line — and based on the salary I’m getting, I can barely afford to pay my bills and put food on the table for my kids,” said Brittany Everidge , a transcription service secretary. at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Los Angeles.
With Tuesday’s vote not unanimous, the issue will come back to council for a second vote next week. LA’s wage measure, which is expected to take effect shortly after this second vote, also includes annual increases in the cost of living starting in January 2024. Under this measure, employers are not allowed to fund wage increases by laying off workers, reducing their working hours or reducing vacation time or other benefits.
Supporters of the LA measure are also calling for a $25 minimum wage for healthcare facility workers in the towns of Baldwin Park, Culver City, Downey, Duarte, Inglewood, Long Beach, Lynwood and Monterey Park.