Labor Union Tries City-by-City Push in California for $25 Minimum Wage at Private Medical Facilities
10/21/2022 9:32:39 AM

A class of health care facility support staff, including nursing assistants, security guards, and janitors, has worked alongside doctors and nurses throughout the covid-19 pandemic keeping patients and medical buildings safe and clean. It’s an unassuming line of work that some people consider a calling.

Tony Ramirez, 39, a critical care technician at Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, California, finds more fulfillment in helping people in need than he once did editing technical documents for Disneyland. Before the pandemic, he would reposition and bathe patients and sometimes monitor their vital signs. After covid struck, he took on more duties, providing CPR or grabbing medications during an emergency, placing leads to monitor heart rhythms, and conducting post-mortem work. “We started doing that,” Ramirez said, “because of the influx of covid patients running very ill and in very intense situations.”

Through it all, his $19.40-an-hour pay hasn’t changed.

In Southern California, one labor union is trying to help by pushing for a $25 minimum wage at private hospitals, psychiatric facilities, and dialysis clinics. The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents roughly 100,000 health care workers in California, says a raise would help the providers retain workers who could land comparable positions at Amazon or fast-food restaurants amid labor shortages. It would also allow Ramirez to give up one of the three jobs he works just to make rent.

What began as a 10-city campaign by the union has been winnowed to November ballot measures in just two cities in Los Angeles County, reflecting expensive political jockeying between labor and industry. And the $25 minimum wage isn’t the only campaign being waged by SEIU-UHW this cycle — the union is also trying for the third time to get dialysis industry reforms passed.

A ballot issue committee called the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems — with funding from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, Adventist Health, Cedars-Sinai, Dignity Health, and other hospitals and health systems — opposes a $25 minimum wage because it raises costs for private, but not public, hospitals and health care facilities. Opponents have latched on to this disparity by calling it the “unequal pay measure.” An analysis commissioned by the California Hospital Association estimated that the change would raise costs for private facilities by $392 million a year, a 6.9% increase, across the 10 cities.

“No one in hospitals and no one in health care is opposed to a living wage,” said George Greene, president and CEO of the Hospital Association of Southern California. “But we believe that this should be a statewide conversation that is measured and thoughtful.”

Earlier this year, city councils in Los Angeles, Downey, Monterey Park, and Long Beach adopted similar $25 minimum wage ordinances for health workers, but they were challenged by hospitals and health facilities, which pushed the issue to the ballot in 2024. Meanwhile, the union dropped its effort in Anaheim and failed to gather enough signatures in Culver City, Lynwood, or Baldwin Park to get a minimum wage measure on the fall ballot. As a result, only voters in Inglewood and Duarte will cast their votes — on Measure HC and Measure J, respectively — this November.

Spending on the fight over the minimum wage proposals in Southern California has reached nearly $22 million. According to state campaign finance filings, SEIU-UHW has spent nearly $11

Courtesy: Kaiser Health News