California health care union calls for $25 per hour minimum wage

The push comes on the heels of Los Angeles’ similar, albeit suspended ordinance

California health care union calls for $25 per hour minimum wage

A health care workers’ union in California is calling for a state-wide $25 per hour minimum wage.

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West said that it will urge California lawmakers to enact such a policy for health care workers.

The union has pushed for ordinances in California cities establishing a minimum hourly wage of the same amount for workers at private healthcare facilities. It said that raising the minimum wage would help address workforce challenges.

Read more: Paying below California minimum wage – is it legal?

However, the California Hospital Association claimed such ordinances are "deeply flawed" and exclude many healthcare workers. The development came after a deal between the union and the association collapsed.

Under that deal, the association sought to delay 2030 state seismic safety requirements for hospitals by seven years, according to a draft of the proposal obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The association also wanted to limit the requirements to facilities that provide emergency services.

In exchange, the association would agree to a plan that would raise the hourly minimum wage for healthcare workers to between $19 and $24 beginning in January. 

Lawmakers would have had to sign off on the deal by the time the legislative session ends on Aug. 31.

Meanwhile, thousands of workers at private hospitals and dialysis clinics in Los Angeles are in limbo as an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $25 per hour is suspended.

It was supposed to go into effect on August 13, but the city clerk’s office paused it after a referendum petition challenging the ordinance was filed, City News Service reported. Now the office is determining whether the ordinance has at least 40,717 signatures, which would compel the issue to be voted on by the public in 2024.

SEIU-UHW, the health care workers union that pushed for the wage increase, alleged that signature gatherers have been misleading citizens, telling them that their signatures are needed “to pay workers more” and “to raise the health care workers’ wages,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The union has filed dozens of complaints about alleged violations of election codes to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and to the Los Angeles city clerk’s office.

Under California law, it’s illegal for anyone circulating a petition to intentionally make false statements about it. The union has also sent representatives to locations where signature gatherers are camped out “to let the public know they have an option to withdraw their signatures,” SEIU-UHW spokesperson Renée Saldaña told the LA Times. According to Saldaña, the union has sent dozens of withdrawal forms from residents to the city clerk.

In June, the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve the minimum wage hike for workers at privately owned hospitals, including nursing assistants, housekeepers, clerical workers, guards, janitors and other employees who are not supervisors or managers. The measure also covers privately owned dialysis clinics and clinics and nursing facilities associated with private hospitals. The union argues that the measure is needed to retain workers who have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with historic inflation and sky-high gas prices.

Hospital groups and other health care facilities are fighting the measure, arguing it would negatively impact facilities that rely on government revenue. As a result, vulnerable people may lose access to essential health services. One of the hospitals that has sued the city over the measure is Barlow Respiratory Hospital, which said that it “may very well cease to exist” if required to hike wages to $25 an hour, the LA Times reported.

“It excludes workers at 90% of healthcare facilities in the city of Los Angeles for no apparent reason,” George W. Greene, president and CEO of the Hospital Association of Southern California, said in a statement.

“We have been consistent and open about our reasons for the referendum — the ordinance is bad policy that is inequitable and unfair for workers, and we want to give the voters the right to decide,” said The No on the Los Angeles Unequal Pay Measure Campaign, a group sponsored by the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

“The petition language itself that voters are signing, as well [as] our materials and advertising have been clear — we’re asking voters to sign the petition to put this unequal and flawed policy to the ballot.”

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