Opponents of health care worker wage increase submit signatures for referendum

Opponents of the recently adopted $25 minimum wage for employees of Long Beach health care facilities have turned in over 40,000 signatures in an effort to let voters decide if the increase should take place, something that could push the decision to March 2024.

The City Council voted in August to adopt an ordinance to increase the minimum wage for health care workers in the city after the union representing those employees, the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, had qualified the issue for the November ballot.

The council had the option of placing the wage increase on the ballot for voters to decide, drafting a competing ballot measure or adopting it as law without changes. The unanimous vote by the council came after months of testimony from local health care workers who said they risked their lives during the pandemic to care for patients while their low wages forced them into second jobs.

There are about 19,000 health care jobs in the city, which represents about 11% of the city’s workforce. The increase would have seen nursing assistants, janitors, pharmacists, groundskeepers and others not making $25 take home more money.

Long Beach’s minimum wage is currently $15 citywide.

In a statement, the No on the Long Beach Unequal Pay Measure group, which includes area hospitals like St. Mary Medical Center and Long Beach Memorial, said that it had submitted 40,683 signatures to the City Clerk Tuesday to be verified. The group only needs 26,829 to qualify the referendum on the wage increase for a vote of the people.

“This is a biased measure that will have a negative impact on Long Beach and particularly our vulnerable populations,” the group said in a statement. “With the signatures turned in today, voters want to vote and decide on this deeply flawed measure.”

The group contends the measure excludes many other health care workers working similar jobs around the city.

The SEIU-UHW said in a statement Wednesday that it is “confident voters will stand with stand with frontline caregivers over greedy CEOs.”

Assistant City Clerk Allison Bunma said their office received the signatures early Tuesday afternoon and is in the process of drafting a letter to Los Angeles County election officials, who will verify the signatures.

Bunma said the signatures are expected to be delivered to the county as soon as Wednesday morning and it will have 30 days to verify the signatures. If enough of the signatures belong to registered voters in the city, the vote could be put on the March 2024 ballot, Bunma said.

The City Council could speed up the vote if the referendum qualifies for the ballot by calling for a special election sometime before March 2024.

The SEIU-UHW had qualified raise increases for health care workers in multiple cities across the region but opponents have already successfully paused those efforts in Los Angeles and Downey by qualifying referendums for the ballot in those cities.

An economic analysis completed by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation earlier this year said that the wage increase would likely result in the loss of about 58 jobs while benefitting those who kept their jobs with millions in wage growth.

However, the report said that the long-term effects of the wage increase could lead to limited job growth in the affected job classifications or lead facilities to close their Long Beach locations and relocate outside of the city.

The city would also be charged with enforcing the new wage increases, something that city officials said could cost $1.2 million per year.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with reaction from the SEIU-UHW to the referendum. 

Health care wage hike could cause short-term monetary gains, long-term job losses, report says

City Council votes to set $25 minimum wage for health care workers in Long Beach

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.
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