More California cities are backing $25-an-hour minimum wages for these workers. Here’s why

LONG BEACH, CA - MAY 13: Nora Mason and other healthcare workers rejoice Operation Thank You Long Beach parade staged by first responders in honor of Hospital Week and to salute health care workers at Dignity Health St.  Mary Medical Center on Wednesday, May 13, 2020 in Long Beach, CA.  (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Nora Mason and other healthcare workers watch a parade staged to salute them on May 13, 2020, in Long Beach. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Long Beach this week became the fourth city in Southern California to move forward with an ordinance to increase the minimum wage to $25 for healthcare workers in the private sector.

Following in the steps of Los Angeles, Downey, and Monterey Park, the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday approved the ordinance in a preliminary vote and will bring it back for a final vote next week — instead of waiting to add the measure to the November ballot.

“We’re all interested in a strong healthcare system, and I think these folks definitely deserve this raise,” Major Robert Garcia said. “We hear from the workers on the ground that they’re working double shifts, they’re working overtime, many have had to leave because of all the pressures around the pandemic.”

The ordinance will benefit all employees in privately owned Long Beach health facilities, which include acute psychiatric hospitals, dialysis clinics, hospitals and other businesses that are part of an integrated healthcare delivery system.

The City Council’s approval comes after renewed efforts by labor unions to improve the living standard of healthcare workers across the country, who have felt overworked, burned out and traumatized by the COVID-19 pandemic. The extensive responsibilities combined with low, uncompetitive wages have driven many people out of the profession.

Currently, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West is working to establish the $25 minimum wage in 10 Southern California cities.

Selene Castillo, 30, a certified nursing assistant at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach, was “in disbelief” when she heard the City Council chose to move forward with the ordinance.

Castillo, who would benefit from the wage hike, has been working in the healthcare industry for six years and has had to reside in San Pedro because she cannot afford to live in Long Beach.

“I feel very undervalued,” Castillo said between tired sighs. “It’s been very difficult because all of my personal needs and my personal goals have been set aside because I have to work with the schedule that they’re giving me and it can’t be worked around because we don’t have the staff. “

Castillo makes less than $20 an hour at her job at St. Mary’s, which forced her to take up a “per diem,” or as-needed, job at a hospital in San Pedro. She works 12-hour days with her two jobs.

Her long workdays do not allow Castillo to focus on continuing her education. Castillo is taking the coursework necessary to become a registered nurse.

“All of my school needs had been pushed to the side for now. It’s been very frustrating because I’m ready to move on. I’m going to school and I can’t move forward because of the schedule,” Castillo said.

Castillo, who is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and cannot vote in the November election, is thankful that the council is moving forward with the ordinance. The wage increase will allow her to quit her second job and dedicate more time to becoming a registered nurse.

Vice Mayor Rex Richardson understands the financial struggle that healthcare workers face because his mother was also a certified nursing assistant. He recalls his mom working long hours and attending night school just to become a nurse, a job in which she was paid more but still “wasn’t paid what she was worth.”

“When you make it personal, it really makes us put ourselves in their shoes. Last night, there was a mother of three who came up. It reminded me a lot of my mom,” Richardson said. “I could see my mom going up to the City Council and saying, ‘I’m doing this for my children.'”

SEIU-UHW collected more than 42,000 signatures to include the $25 minimum wage measure on the Nov. 8 ballots — well over the 27,054 required to qualify for the election.

“Healthcare workers have been at the center stage for the last 2 ½ years, but they never really felt valued or respected by their employers,” Suzanne Jimenez, a proponent of the measure and political director for SEIU-UHW said. “The vote last night really signals to healthcare workers that their employers may not value them, but the City Council does.”

Recognizing the strong support from constituents, Councilwoman Suely Saro decided to put forward a motion to vote on the measure becoming an ordinance for the city, rather than waiting for the ballot.

“Thousands of people support this. For us to put it on the ballot would be a waste of our money. It would cost $100,000 to $150,000 to put a measure on the ballot that already has widespread support,” Councilman Roberto Uranga said during the meeting .

If the ordinance is approved next week, it will head to Garcia to be signed off, which he said he will do “when it hits my desk immediately.”

In preparation for this motion, the council requested a report analyzing the economic impact of the ordinance. Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. completed the report this week, which triggered the initial vote.

The nonprofit group had only one month to do the report, which was 60 pages long. Among its findings was that the wage increase would result in the loss of about 58 jobs, and it warned that the long-term effects of the measure could cause limited job growth. This could lead to facilities having to relocate or spend less on technology.

The study noted that for those who keep their jobs, the ordinance will cause millions in wage growth and allow people to quit second jobs.

The measure has been strongly opposed by the No on the Long Beach Unequal Pay Measure coalition, a group of healthcare providers. It notes that the measure protects only workers in private hospitals and says the measure will set an arbitrary pay requirement that excludes a majority of healthcare workers in the 10 cities considering adopting the measure.

“This harmful policy is unequal and unfair for health care workers. The measure would arbitrarily exclude 65% of workers who do the exact same job as those covered by the ordinance. It will exacerbate disparities in our health care system by creating staffing shortages at community clinics and public health care providers that disproportionately serve disadvantaged patients,” the coalition said in a news release.

Saro said the council cannot legally include workers from the public sector in the ordinance. However, she agrees that all healthcare workers should be included.

“While this ordinance includes the private sector, we would hope that it will encourage the public sector, and all other sectors, to follow along in their lead,” Saro said.

Garcia and Richardson agree that all healthcare workers should earn a livable wage. They also added that there is only one public hospital in Long Beach, which is a federal hospital. Therefore, the “large majority of hospital workers are going to be covered,” Garcia said.

However, the No on the Long Beach Unequal Pay Measure coalition notes that many public clinics will be excluded as well.

“Health care providers support fair living wages for workers, but it is inappropriate to arbitrarily set policy randomly by city and to pick winners and losers among workers,” the coalition’s statement said.

Councilman Al Austin acknowledged in the meeting that “there are a lot of unknown variables, but one thing we do know is healthcare workers who endured an unprecedented time are going to be compensated today and moving forward.”

Castillo experienced this firsthand when one of her co-workers at St. Mary’s contracted COVID-19. The co-worker became her patient before ultimately passing away.

“It was very, very traumatic, and it’s something that you just don’t shake off,” Castillo said. “We’re doing more and more work and not seeing any pay, and we’re tired.”

Castillo stresses that although this is a big step forward, the fight for equity in the healthcare system is not over.

“We’re not asking to get rich. We just want a livable wage,” Castillo said. “I hope that this $25 minimum doesn’t just stop here in a couple of cities. I hope it continues throughout the state, and hopefully the country.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.