SAN DIEGO (KSWB) — Lawmakers in California introduced new legislation this week that would raise the minimum wage for healthcare workers statewide – the newest move by labor advocates in a years-long fight to address workplace issues in the industry.
The bill, SB-525, was introduced Tuesday by Democratic State Sen. Maria Durazo and would require healthcare facilities and care centers to set minimum wage for hourly employees at $25. This would increase the base pay from the $15 state standard for all support staff like technicians, janitors and nurses.
“We have a patient care crisis and a workforce shortage statewide,” the Los Angeles representative said in a tweet announcing the bill. “They need livable and fair wages.”
Efforts to raise the minimum wage for healthcare employees have been in the works for several years, gaining traction after the pandemic exacerbated problems caused by staffing shortages in the healthcare industry.
A survey conducted last year by Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) found that nearly 83% of healthcare workers reported understaffing at their facilities, leading to delays and rushing of care, skipping safety protocols, and forgoing meals to breaks.
“We are understaffed and current pay is not enough to keep experienced healthcare workers from leaving, especially after all we’ve experienced through this pandemic,” one dialysis center patient care technician, Livier Olmedo, said in a press release from SEIU-UHW.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 1.7 million healthcare workers in California. Of those workers, the agency estimates nearly 1.1 million people work in healthcare support roles, earning an average hourly wage for those roles around $17.22.
“We take pride in our work and love caring for our patients,” Olmedo continued. “But too many caregivers struggle to pay rent and put food on the table, causing high turnover and worsening the staffing crisis.”
Advocates say that a statewide minimum wage would help resolve these issues, however, efforts to implement them have faced strong opposition from the health industry.
Efforts to reach a deal that would implement the $25 minimum wage statewide fell through last summer, in part because hospitals walked away from negotiations after higher wages for support staff were tied to the financing of earthquake upgrades.
SEIU-UHW has also attempted to raise pay minimums through a city-by-city approach, spending nearly $11 million according to campaign finance filings on local ballot initiatives in Southern California cities to adopt ordinances to raise the local minimum wage for healthcare workers.
A ballot issue committee backed by Kaiser Permanente, Adventist Health, Cedars-Sinai and other healthcare providers quashed most of those efforts.
City councils in Los Angeles, Downey, Monterey Park and Long Beach introduced ordinances on the minimum wage, but California Healthline reported that these raises were pushed to the 2024 election ballot after hospitals challenged the change.
Voters in two cities – Inglewood and Duarte – were able to vote on the measures last year, passing only in Inglewood.
“Through the process of passing local ordinances and talking to elected officials about statewide legislation, we’ve discovered an enormous appreciation for healthcare workers among lawmakers and the public and an understanding of how low wages are making the healthcare staffing crisis worse,” Dave Regan, president of SEIU-UHW, said in an August release. “There is a broad understanding that it was frontline healthcare workers, not greedy hospital executives, who put their lives on the line and continue to carry California through the COVID crisis.”
Should the bill be passed by lawmakers and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, the new wage increase is set to go into effect after Jan.1, 2024. The bill also includes yearly adjustments to the minimum wage, relative to cost of living based on the consumer price index.