By Alfredo Santana
LYNWOOD — The City Council has voted to raise the minimum hourly wage for certain health care workers to $25, in line with other ordinances approved in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Downey that have been suspended by legal challenges filed by impacted private hospitals and clinics.
The measure applies to all staff employed at private hospitals and dialysis clinics and includes managers and supervisors, according to a document prepared by City Manager Ernie Hernandez.
“The city of Lynwood needs a sufficient health care workforce to ensure that life-saving health care facilities, including hospitals, health systems and dialysis clinics offer consistent, timely high-quality care,” Hernandez wrote in his report to the council. “Workers at acute care facilities provide vital services including emergency care, labor and delivery, cancer treatments and primary and special care.”
Behind the $25 an hour minimum wage campaign is the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, organization that focuses on for profit hospitals such as St. Francis Medical Center as the main target to raise salaries.
The hospital’s LinkedIn page indicates that the facility employs 1,778 health care workers, offers 384 beds and operates two community health clinics. Prime Healthcare, a chain of 45 hospitals across the nation with headquarters in Ontario, purchased the facility in August 2020.
Before the ordinance’s approval, union members lobbied city staff to add in the draft language it intended to use in a ballot proposal that floundered last year due to lack of signatures to qualify for a municipal election.
The latter was a strategy the union unfolded during its campaign launched in several cities within Los Angeles County to pass the $25 minimum wage for health care employees, including Los Angeles, Long Beach, Downey, Inglewood and Monterey Park.
“With this vote, the Lynwood City Council showed that momentum and support keeps growing for a $25 health care worker minimum wage,” said Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West in a statement.
“We commend the Lynwood City Council for ensuring health care workers earn a fair wage that reflects their life-saving work and for taking steps to confront the staffing crisis in California’s health care system.”
However, the measure already faces pushback from organizations supporting hospitals that argue ordinances in Los Angeles, Downey and Long Beach apply to a selective group of health care employees, and exclude those in community clinics and nursing homes earning as little as $16 to $17 an hour.
“We are deeply concerned and opposed to this ordinance,” Adena Tessler, regional vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California told the Lynwood City Council minutes before their vote Feb. 21. “Setting different and unequal minimum wages city by city is a fundamentally flawed approach that creates a hodge-podge system.”
The organization said such salary divides would drive away talent, further worsening a crisis at community clinics caring for low-income patients still suffering long-term effects of COVID-19.
“It’s disappointing that the Lynwood City Council rushes to pass this unequal policy without considering that it excludes 75% of heath care workers in Lynwood who do the exact same jobs,” said Adam Blackstone, senior vice president of communications and event management with the Hospital Association of Southern California in an email.
“This ordinance will amplify disparities in our health care system and create staffing shortages at community clinics, nursing homes and public health care providers that disproportionately serve disadvantaged patients.”
In Los Angeles, the ordinance’s implementation was suspended last Aug. 11 by the city clerk following a referendum petition challenging its content.
According to the group “No on the Los Angeles Unequal Pay Measure,” more than 90% of health care employees in the city are sidelined, and labeled the measure “inequitable and discriminatory.”
“No on the Los Angeles Unequal Pay Measure” is sponsored by the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.
It is likely that the $25 an hour issue in Los Angeles would be decided permanently by the voters in the 2024 general election.
Likewise, the same organization filed a referendum petition in Downey, halting the $25 an hour measure. Downey City Council members had voted in August to raise the minimum hourly wages for health care workers at private facilities.
The California Association of Hospitals accused Los Angeles and Downey leaders of failing to conduct economic impact studies on hospitals and dialysis clinics impacted by the ordinances’ implementation.
On Sept. 27, the Downey City Council moved to let voters resolve the matter on the municipal election slated for Nov. 5, 2024.
In Long Beach, opponents to the $25 an hour ordinance for health care workers, janitors and clerical employees collected enough signatures to postpone the measure’s enforcement until voters weigh in on its fate in a March 2024 special election.
However, the issue in Inglewood has been settled for good.
On Nov. 8, Inglewood voters approved to increase salaries at $25 an hour for health care workers and staff at private hospitals, dialysis clinics and health network facilities. It became effective Jan. 1.
Measure HC applies to doctors, nurses, certified nurse assistants, aides, technicians, maintenance workers, janitors and housekeepers, guards, food service staff, laundry workers and pharmacists.
The measure excludes employees in management or supervision.
Measure HC was approved with 53.54% of votes versus 46.46% against it,
Lynwood’s Assistant City Clerk Silvia Pineda said Councilwoman Rita Soto cast the lone dissenting vote. Mayor Oscar Flores, and council members Juan Muñoz-Guevara, Jose Luis Solache and Gabriela Camacho supported the initiative.
The Lynwood ordinance is slated to take effect 90 days after its approval on May 22.