Long Beach this week became the fourth Southern California city to move forward with an ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $25 for private sector healthcare workers.
Following the steps of Los Angeles, Downey and Monterey Park, the Long Beach City Council approved the ordinance in a preliminary vote on Tuesday and will bring it back for a final vote next week — instead of waiting to add the measure in November ballot.
“We are all interested in a strong health care system, and I think these people really deserve this increase,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “We’re hearing from workers on the ground that they’re working double shifts, working overtime, many have had to leave because of all the pressures of the pandemic.”
The order will benefit all employees of private healthcare facilities in Long Beach, 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 unions to improve the living standards of healthcare workers across the country, who have felt overworked, exhausted and traumatized by the COVID-19 pandemic. The extensive responsibilities combined with low and uncompetitive salaries caused many people to leave 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 practical nurse at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach, was “in disbelief” when she heard the city council had chosen to go ahead with the ordinance.
Castillo, who would benefit from the pay rise, has worked in the healthcare industry for six years and 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 has been very difficult as all my personal needs and personal goals have been pushed aside as I have to work with the schedule they give me and it cannot be circumvented as we don’t have the staff.”
Castillo earns less than $20 an hour at her job at St. Mary’s, which forced her to take a “per diem,” or as needed, job at a hospital in San Pedro. She works 12 hours a day with her two jobs.
His long working days do not allow Castillo to concentrate on pursuing his studies. Castillo takes the necessary courses to become a registered nurse.
“All my school needs had been put aside for now. It’s very frustrating because I’m ready to move on. I’m going to school and I can’t get ahead because of the schedule” , Castillo said.
Castillo, who is on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and cannot vote in the November election, is grateful the council is moving forward with the order. The pay raise will allow her to quit her second job and devote more time to becoming a registered nurse.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson understands the financial hardship facing healthcare workers, as his mother was also a certified practical nurse. He recalls his mother working long hours and attending night school just to become a nurse, a job in which she was better paid 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. It reminded me a lot of my mother,” Richardson said. “I could see my mom going up to city council and saying, ‘I’m doing this for my kids.'”
SEIU-UHW collected more than 42,000 signatures to include the $25 minimum wage measure in the Nov. 8 ballot — well beyond the 27,054 needed to qualify for the election.
“Healthcare workers have been center stage for 2 1/2 years, but they have never really felt valued or respected by their employers,” said Suzanne Jimenez, measure supporter and SEIU-UHW policy director. . “Last night’s vote is a real signal to healthcare workers that their employers may not like them, but the city council does.”
Acknowledging strong voter support, 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 on the ballot a measure that already has broad support,” Councilman Roberto Uranga told the meeting.
If the order is approved next week, it will travel to Garcia to be signed, 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 non-profit group had just one month to report, which was 60 pages. Among his conclusions was that the increase in wages would result in the loss of around 58 jobs, and he warned that the long-term effects of the measure could lead to limited job growth. This could force facilities to relocate or spend less on technology.
The study noted that for those who keep their jobs, the order will lead to millions of dollars in wage growth and allow people to quit second jobs.
The measure was strongly opposed by the No on the Long Beach Unequal Pay Measure coalition, a group of healthcare providers. He notes that the measure only protects workers in private hospitals and says the measure will set an arbitrary compensation requirement that excludes a majority of healthcare workers in the 10 cities considering adopting the measure.
“This harmful policy is unequal and unfair to healthcare workers. The measure would arbitrarily exclude 65% of workers who do exactly the same work as those covered by the order. This will exacerbate disparities in our healthcare system by creating staffing shortages at community clinics and public healthcare providers who disproportionately serve disadvantaged patients,” the coalition said in a press release.
Saro said the council cannot legally include public sector workers in the order. However, she agrees that all healthcare workers should be included.
“While this order includes the private sector, we hope it will encourage the public sector, and all other sectors, to follow their lead,” Saro said.
Garcia and Richardson agree that all healthcare workers should earn a living wage. They also added that there is only one public hospital in Long Beach, which is a federal hospital. Therefore, “the vast majority of hospital workers will be covered,” Garcia said.
However, the No on the Long Beach Unequal Pay Measure coalition notes that many public clinics will also be excluded.
“Healthcare providers support living wages for workers, but it is inappropriate to arbitrarily set policy haphazardly by city and pick winners and losers among workers,” the coalition statement said.
Councilor Al Austin acknowledged at the meeting that “there are a lot of unknown variables, but one thing we do know is that healthcare workers who have endured an unprecedented time are going to be compensated today. and move forward”.
Castillo experienced this first-hand when one of his colleagues at St. Mary’s contracted COVID-19. The colleague became his patient before finally passing away.
“It was very, very traumatic, and it’s something you don’t get rid of,” Castillo said. “We are doing more and more work and not receiving any salary, and we are tired.”
Castillo points out that while this is a big step forward, the fight for equity in the healthcare system is not over.
“We don’t ask to get rich. We just want a living wage,” Castillo said. “Hopefully this $25 minimum doesn’t stop here in a few cities. I hope this continues across the state and hopefully across the country.