A third city in Los Angeles County has raised minimum wages to $25 an hour for some private health care workers, sparking controversy over the impact on health care workers at public hospitals.
On Monday, the Municipal Council of Monterey Park, about seven miles from downtown Los Angeles, voted in favor of a $25 minimum wage for the city’s health workers, just two weeks after the city of Downey did the same. The wave of wage increases follows the example of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who signed July 8 ordinance establishing a $25 hourly minimum wage for workers in eligible private health care facilities.
While the wage increase is a victory for some, questions remain about where the money will come from.
“They will have to cut costs and services,” said Erin J. McLaughlin, attorney and shareholder in the health care practice of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, specializing in labor and employment. “And I think that’s really going to put additional strain on an already strained industry, so the question becomes, ‘can a patient get adequate care based on where they are?'”
The Los Angeles No to Equal Pay Coalition is a group of hospitals and health care workers who oppose the wage increase. The group estimates that the regulation excludes 90% of healthcare workers. According to McLaughlin, this disparity will lead to an even greater labor shortage.
“If you’re guaranteed a higher minimum wage in a private facility, you’re going to see those workers go looking for jobs in private facilities, and we’re going to have an even more dire situation in terms of labor shortages in federally qualified health centers,” McLaughlin said.
The health care community is divided over the wage increases, with some groups such as SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, a union lauding the wage increases.
“The pandemic has exacerbated staffing shortages at 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 news release. “We applaud the Monterey Park City Council for voting to protect the public health of residents and address the staffing shortages that threaten patient care. By ensuring that health care workers receive a fair wage that reflects the vital work they do, Monterey Park can retain and attract the workers needed to ensure that the quality of health care does not decline in the city.”
The unification has collected the necessary number of signatures to place the minimum wage increase on each of the ballots on which there has been a vote to date.
Opponents say the unequal wages will worsen an already dire shortage of health care workers because the wage increases affect only a small number of hospitals.
“We all agree that healthcare workers are heroes, but these unequal pay measures are unfair to workers, harmful and costly to patients, and risky to our communities,” said George Green, president of the California Hospital Association, after the vote in Los Angeles. The concern is if and when health workers in public health systems will leave because they are not getting a raise.
Health care providers filed a lawsuit on July 14 challenging Mayor Garcetti’s ordinance violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the US and California constitutions, which state that the law must treat similarly situated persons equally.
“The hastily adopted ordinance is unequal and unfair. It shuts down workers in 90 percent of the health care facilities in the city of Los Angeles for no apparent reason,” Green said. “It discriminates against both health care workers and providers, and we’re asking the courts to overturn it.”
California isn’t the only state struggling with how to compensate health care workers. In Ohio last week, Adena Health System announced would raise caregiver wages to $15 an hour. The increased minimum wage will affect 14 percent of Adena workers, who will see an increase in their hourly pay in a phased-in plan starting in September.
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