Citing inequity, hospitals campaign to overturn LA's new $25 minimum wage for healthcare workers

California hospitals have launched a campaign to roll back Los Angeles’ newly enacted $25 per hour minimum wage for many private sector healthcare workers.

The Healthcare Workers Minimum Wage Ordinance was signed Friday by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti after the city received a petition for the pay increase organized by the labor group SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) and signed by more than 145,000 people. Los Angeles’ current minimum wage is $16.04.

The pay bump is set to take effect 31 days after being published by the city clerk, will be adjusted annually for cost of living starting in 2024 and will raise wages for roughly 20,000 healthcare workers across the city, according to the mayor’s office. Those impacted include non-clinical staff, such as food service workers, groundskeepers and maintenance workers, according to the ordinance.

"Working long, grueling hours and absorbing insurmountable stress, the burnout being felt from the pressures of COVID-19 has been prevalent, causing an alarming number of healthcare workers to leave the profession altogether,” Los Angeles Councilmember Curren Price said in a statement. “The approval to raise their wages demonstrates to the countless workers that they are valued, seen, heard and above all, their lives matter."

The ordinance was opposed by hospitals under the banner of the No on the Unequal Pay Measure Coalition, a campaign sponsored by the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

The group is now seeking enough signatures to put the wage hike in front of Los Angeles voters, which would block the increase from going into effect until a 2024 election yields a verdict. The hospitals-backed push would require nearly 41,000 signatures to be submitted within 30 days.

The coalition paints the Healthcare Workers Minimum Wage Ordinance as an “inequitable, arbitrary and discriminatory” move that would ultimately harm patients and workers.

Because it applies only to certain workers at private hospitals, hospital-based facilities and dialysis clinics, the “vast majority” of Los Angeles healthcare workers are excluded from the measure’s pay increase, the coalition said.

As such, the ordinance will drive a flight of talent from public hospitals and other non-covered facilities such as community health clinics, Planned Parenthood clinics and nursing homes, the group said.

Workforce shortages at these facilities would disproportionately harm the disadvantaged, underserved and uninsured communities whom these facilities more often serve, the coalition said. Service cuts would also be in the cards as provider organizations contend with tens of millions of dollars in increased annual costs, they said.

“We all agree healthcare workers are heroes, but this Unequal Pay Ordinance is deeply flawed, inequitable and will hurt workers and patients,” the coalition said.

The city and proponents of the measure viewed much of the opposition as a push for profits.

In the ordinance’s text, the city highlighted “huge profits in the billions of dollars” and “increasing profit margins” health systems have seen during the pandemic. The city government wrote that “the healthcare industry needs to use some of its profits to fairly compensate workers who are sacrificing every day to care for patients.”

In a release celebrating the ordinance’s signing, SEIU-UHW said healthcare employers “have failed to compensate us for our dedication and sacrifices” and “have more than enough to raise wages.”

The group noted similar wage increase efforts ongoing in eight other California cities as well as a push to bring the $25 minimum to all of the state’s healthcare workers.

In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, SEIU-UHW spokesperson Renée Saldaña said the hospitals “are out of step with local voters if they think the solution is to slash wages for the caregivers who got us through the pandemic. … The problem that needs to be addressed is bloated executive compensation that is driving up healthcare costs for Angelenos.”

George Greene, president and CEO of the Hospital Association of Southern California, told the paper that many of the region’s hospitals are “reeling” financially due to the pandemic. He also said the city passed the ordinance without conducting any type of analysis regarding the impact it would have on the area’s hospitals.