A class of healthcare facility support staff, including nursing assistants, security guards and janitors, have worked alongside doctors and nurses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure safety and security. cleanliness of patients and medical buildings. It’s an unassuming line of work that some people consider a calling.
Tony Ramirez, 39, an intensive care technician at Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, Calif., finds more satisfaction in helping those in need than he once did editing technical documents for Disneyland. Before the pandemic, he repositioned and bathed patients and sometimes monitored their vital signs. After COVID-19 hit, he took on more duties, providing CPR or taking medication in emergencies, placing tracks to monitor heart rhythms, and doing post-mortem work. “We started doing this,” Ramirez said, “due to the influx of very sick COVID patients and in very intense situations.”
Throughout this time, his hourly wage of $19.40 has not changed.
In Southern California, a union is trying to help by pushing for a $25 minimum wage in private hospitals, psychiatric facilities and dialysis clinics. The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents about 100,000 healthcare workers in California, says a raise would help suppliers retain workers who could land comparable positions at Amazon or fast food restaurants. in the event of a labor shortage. It would also allow Ramirez to give up one of the three jobs he has just to make rent.
What began as a 10-city campaign by the union was swept away by November ballot measures in just two cities in Los Angeles County, reflecting a costly political jockey between labor and industry. And the $25 minimum wage isn’t the only campaign the SEIU-UHW is waging this cycle — the union is also making a third attempt to push through dialysis industry reforms.
A voting 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 to a minimum wage of $25 because it increases costs for hospitals and private, but not public, health facilities. Opponents have latched onto this disparity, calling it a “measure of wage inequality.” An analysis commissioned by the California Hospital Association estimated that the change would increase private facility costs by $392 million per year, or a 6.9% increase, across the 10 cities.
“Nobody in hospitals and nobody in health care is against a living wage,” said George Greene, president and CEO of the Southern California Hospital Association. “But we think this should be a statewide, measured and thoughtful conversation.”
Earlier this year, city councils in Los Angeles, Downey, Monterey Park and Long Beach passed similar $25 minimum wage ordinances for health care workers, but they were challenged by hospitals and health care facilities. , pushing the issue to the 2024 ballot. Meanwhile, the union abandoned efforts in Anaheim and failed to collect enough signatures in Culver City, Lynwood, or Baldwin Park to secure a minimum wage measure. in the fall election. As a result, only voters in Inglewood and Duarte will vote – on Measure HC and Measure J, respectively – in November.
Spending on fighting minimum wage proposals in Southern California has reached nearly $22 million. According to state campaign finance documents, the SEIU-UHW spent nearly $11 million in the 10 cities. Hospitals and healthcare facilities also spent nearly $11 million to defeat minimum wage proposals.
Unions have long called for general increases in the minimum wage. In 2016, unions played a key role in successfully lobbying the then government. Jerry Brown to make California the first state to set a $15 minimum wage, a progressive measure that applies since this year to all employers with 26 or more workers. About 40 local governments set their own minimum wages above the state minimum. The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25.
SEIU-UHW considered a statewide reach, as well as the current piecemeal strategy of targeting cities in and around Los Angeles. “At first we were looking city by city,” said the union’s political director, Suzanne Jimenez. “And then a conversation about doing it statewide took place but ultimately didn’t move forward.”
That’s partly because an agreement to set a statewide minimum wage for public and private hospitals fell apart at the end of the last legislative session, and victories like that are harder to win than they once were, said Bill Sokol, a labor attorney who has worked with SEIU-UHW.
“It’s not about what we would like to be able to do, it’s about where can we win,” Sokol said. “The answer is in one city at a time.”
Union leaders said they targeted cities where internal polls showed support from residents. Jimenez said the proposal had majority support in Inglewood, but Duarte was too small to sample. The measures require a majority vote in each city to pass, and if that happens, they will go into effect 30 days after the results are certified.
If the approach proves successful in Los Angeles County, the union will consider taking the proposal to other parts of the state, including the Inland Empire and Sacramento, Jimenez said. This could eventually build momentum for statewide change.
If voters in Inglewood and Duarte adopted the $25 minimum wage, the effect would be limited. Workers at state and county-run medical facilities are not covered by city ordinances, so local measures would not apply. This means that it excludes workers who hold the same jobs in public hospitals, clinics and health care facilities.
In Inglewood, the measure would only apply to Centinela Hospital Medical Center and several for-profit dialysis clinics. In Duarte, that would apply to City of Hope, a private cancer hospital.
Many labor economists agree that something has to improve for this workforce: it needs higher wages and better working conditions. But that comes at a cost to the health care system, said Joanne Spetz, director of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.
“In the end, who ends up paying for it? Consumers do,” Spetz said. “Maybe you’ll squeeze the profit margins of a publicly traded company a bit, but the reality is that these companies have been pretty good at figuring out how to maintain revenue and profitability.”
Still, the union says a $25 minimum wage would help members of the lowest-paid sector of healthcare workers, who are disproportionately women, immigrants and people of color.
Andrew Kelly, an assistant professor of public health at Cal State East Bay, said raising salaries at one facility could have a cascading effect, as surrounding facilities would then have to raise salaries to be competitive.
Currently, a living wage in LA County for a single adult with no children is $21.89 an hour, or just over $45,500 a year, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology tool. According to the same tool, occupations such as “health care support” typically bring in about $33,000 per year in the county.
On Election Day, most Southern California health workers will have to watch from the sidelines.
In Monterey Park, where Ramirez works, the city council approved the $25 minimum wage, but opponents got the vote overturned arguing the council lacked a quorum at the time. The council ended up asking the question about the 2024 ballot, two years from now. Ramirez said new hires at his medical center start at $15.30 an hour to do the dirtiest jobs in the hospital and five workers left his service this year.
“It’s disheartening, I’m not going to lie,” Ramirez said. “These elected officials know what is going on.
This story was originally published October 20, 2022 02:00.