Health care workers erupted in applause Tuesday night when the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to move forward with boosting the city’s minimum wage for health care employees to $25 per hour instead of asking voters to decide on the issue in the Nov. 8 election.
The increase will apply to all employees including clinicians, nursing assistants, janitors, pharmacists and laundry workers at private Long Beach health care facilities. The types of facilities it would apply to include acute psychiatric hospitals, dialysis clinics, hospitals and other businesses that are part of an integrated health care delivery system.
There are over 1,100 health care facilities in the city that account for about 19,000 jobs, or about 11% of the city’s workforce.
“These hospitals definitely can afford this and there’s no reason they can’t pay their workers $25 or even more,” said Suzanne Jimenez, the measure’s proponent and political director for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West.
The SEIU-UWH led the charge to qualify the issue for the Nov. 8 election, turning in enough signatures early this year to force a vote. After that, the council had the limited options of putting it on the ballot for voters to decide, creating a competing initiative to place on the ballot alongside the minimum wage increase or adopting it outright as it did Tuesday night.
Representatives from some of the city’s largest health care providers, including Long Beach Memorial and Saint Mary Medical Center, tried to persuade the council to send it to voters, noting that it could affect how health care is delivered for the entire city.
“The people have spoken and they want to take care of health care workers as they have taken care of us,” said Councilmember Suely Saro, who made the motion to adopt it as an ordinance.
Saro and others thought the cost of putting the issue on the ballot—about $100,000 to $150,000—would not be justified given the thousands of people who signed on to support the ballot initiative.
The council had waited until Tuesday to take action as it awaited the completion of an economic impact report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation this week.
The LAEDC had only about a month to compile the 50-plus page report, but it found that the wage hike would likely result in the loss of upwards of 58 jobs. Those who keep their jobs, however, could see millions in wage growth that could allow them to quit second jobs, something echoed by multiple speakers who supported the wage hike during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The report also warned that the long-term effects of the wage increase could lead to limited job growth in those job classifications and potentially cause some facilities to close or relocate, or invest less in technology to account for the increased labor costs.
Because of the condensed timeframe in which the report was conducted, its authors recommended a broader study to examine how the wage increase would affect the Long Beach health care network over the next few years.
“There are a lot of unknowns, but the one thing we do know is that the health care workers who endured an unprecedented time over the past few years will be compensated today and going forward,” said Councilmember Al Austin.
The measure’s language prohibits retaliation by employers and bars them from cutting hours, laying off employees or taking other punitive measures against employees once the wage increase takes hold, but the report warned there’s nothing preventing them from laying off workers before the measure takes effect.
The No on Long Beach Unequal Pay Measure coalition, a group of healthcare providers who opposed the measure in Long Beach and other cities, said in a statement that the policy is harmful and would arbitrarily which workers make more money to do the same job depending on if they work at a facility covered under the measure.
“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 group said in a statement.
Enforcement of the measure would fall on the city and officials estimate that could cost $1.2 million per year for the city.
Long Beach was the largest remaining city to make a decision on the measure out of about 10 where similar measures were circulated. It now joins Downey and Los Angeles, which adopted the measures as ordinances earlier this year.
A coalition of hospital groups is now trying to repeal the votes of the LA and Downey city councils through a referendum process.
To implement their decision, Long Beach council members are expected to vote on the minimum wage increase ordinance at their meeting next week. City ordinances that are not emergency ordinances typically go into effect 30 days after they’re signed by the mayor, who tweeted that he supports the measure.
Editors note: The story has been updated with a statement from a coalition opposing the group that includes the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems