A third city in Los Angeles County has increased minimum wages to $25 per hour for certain private healthcare workers, stirring controversy about the impact on healthcare workers at public hospitals.
On Monday, the city council of Monterey Park, about seven miles from downtown Los Angeles, voted in favor of a $25 minimum wage for healthcare workers in the city, just two weeks after the city of Downey did the same. The wave of wage increases follows the lead of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who signed an ordinance on July 8 establishing a $25 minimum hourly wage for workers at eligible privately owned healthcare facilities.
Though the wage increase is a win for some, questions remain about where the money will come from.
“They’re gonna have to cut costs and services,” said Erin J. McLaughlin, attorney and shareholder for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s healthcare practice, specializing in labor and employment. “And I think it’s going to really put an additional strain on what is an already strained industry so then the question becomes, ‘can a patient receive adequate care based on where they’re located?’”
The coalition, “No on the Los Angeles Equal Pay Measure,” is a group of hospitals and healthcare workers opposing the wage increase. The group estimates that the ordinance excludes 90% of healthcare workers. According to McLaughlin, this disparity will lead to an even greater workforce shortage.
“If you’re guaranteed a higher minimum wage at a private facility, you’re going to see those workers go seek jobs at private facilities and we’re going to have what is even more dreadful of a situation in terms of the labor shortage at the federally qualified health centers,” McLaughlin said.
The healthcare community is divided by the wage increases, with some groups such as the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, a labor union, lauding the pay hikes.
“The pandemic has worsened staffing shortages in local hospitals and many workers have left the industry due to chronic stress, burnout, and low pay,” said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West in a news release. “We commend the Monterey Park City Council for voting to protect public health for residents and addressing a staffing shortage that threatens patient care. By ensuring healthcare workers earn a fair wage that reflects their vital work, Monterey Park can retain and attract the workers needed to ensure the quality of healthcare doesn’t decline in the city.”
The union collected the required number of signatures to put the minimum wage increase on each of the ballots where votes have taken place so far.
Opponents say unequal wages will worsen the already dire healthcare worker shortage because the wage increase only affects a small number of hospitals.
“We all agree that healthcare workers are heroes — but these unequal pay measures are inequitable for workers, harmful and costly for patients, and risky for our communities,” George Greene, the president of the Hospital Association of California said, after the vote in LA. The concern is whether, or when, healthcare workers at public healthcare systems will quit since they aren’t receiving a pay increase.
Healthcare providers filed a lawsuit on July 14, claiming Mayor Garcetti’s ordinance violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. and California constitutions that say a law must treat similarly situated persons the same.
“The hastily approved ordinance is unequal and unfair. It excludes workers at 90% of healthcare facilities in the City of Los Angeles for no apparent reason,” Greene said. “It discriminates against healthcare workers and providers alike, and we are asking the courts to overturn it.”
California isn’t the only state grappling with how to compensate healthcare workers. In Ohio last week, Adena Health System announced it would raise its caregiver wages to $15 per hour. The increased minimum wage will impact 14% of Adena’s workers, who will see their hourly pay increase in a phased rollout plan beginning in September.
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