The Los Angeles City Council voted 10-2 to increase the minimum wage for workers at private hospitals to $25 an hour on Tuesday.
The proposed increase, which would affect all workers in the hospital and not just healthcare workers, has been under discussion since the early days of the pandemic. Due to the increased risk of COVID-19, many leaving positions during the great resignation, as well as the increased difficulty of hiring and retaining employees due to many feeling washed out and under appreciated during the pandemic, the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers (SEIU-UHW) union began collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage for workers at private hospitals to $25 an hour last year.
The goal was to bring the minimum wage increase to a vote this November. However, once enough signatures were collected and confirmed, the L.A. City Council had the choice to either send it to voters in November or approve the measure themselves. They opted for the latter, leading up to the vote on Tuesday.
The SEIU-UHW, healthcare workers, and increased minimum wage supporters backed the measure, with many being present at the meeting on Tuesday. They argued that, due to the increased risk and not having more set wage increases like public hospitals, workers needed the raise to stay, with the higher wages being seen more as a ‘hazard pay’ due to risks from COVID-19 still being present..
In a a statement, the SEIU-UHW argued that workers are “Burned out and traumatized from the pandemic, many feel disrespected and undervalued and have left the profession, and more are considering leaving soon. Raising the minimum wage helps acknowledge their vital, life-saving work and retain workers for Los Angeles’ future healthcare needs.”
A janitor in a private hospital in LA, Luis, also added to the Globe that “Workers in other industries see pay rates rise to be kept on due to the dangers. Yet if you aren’t a doctor or nurse or other medical worker in a hospital, they don’t give a second glance. But we’re at a major risk too. If they don’t want to lose us, they need to give us the respect we deserve. And not just a free lunch day every now and then. That is very patronizing to us. We’re talking about money.”
LA City Council votes on $25 an hour pay raise for private hospital workers
However, hospital groups and administrators fought back against the measure, noting that many jobs in hospitals have considerably less risk and that, if passed, hospitals will have to choose between hiring more people, or hiring less with the increased wage. Others noted that the hikes were unfair, as they wouldn’t cover public hospitals, with private hospitals possibly poaching employees from there due to the higher wages.
“They will face the daunting choice of significantly raising their minimum salaries in order to compete for the very limited workforce — or settle for less staffing and widening the wage gap,” said Kaiser Permanente senior director of regional government and community relations Yesenia Monsour during the meeting on Tuesday. “The impact to the health of your communities is at stake.”
Regional vice president for L.A. County for the Hospital Association of Southern California Adena Tessler added that “This is an incredibly, incredibly flawed measure. People doing the same jobs at two different facilities are not getting paid the same.”
Others also questioned the decision for it to not be decided by voters.
“If this is so fair, then why aren’t the voters being allowed to decide?” asked wage advocate Carmine Spencer to the Globe on Tuesday. “The people should be deciding this, just as the signature drive put forth, not a handful of people on City Council.”
Despite the opposition, the City Council voted to pass the measure 10-2, with Councilmen Paul Krekorian and Joe Buscaino voting no and Councilman John Lee not voting due to being on the board of a hospital. As the vote was not unanimous, the measure will face a second vote next week.
Currently, the California minimum wage is set at $15 an hour, with an expected increase next year to $15.50. The L.A. minimum wage is set to go to $16.04 an hour beginning next month.
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