Lynwood health care wage measure headed to 2024 ballot

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By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LYNWOOD — Opponents of a city ordinance that raises the minimum hourly wage of health care workers to $25 have gathered enough signatures to challenge the measure in a referendum next year. 

A May 3 certificate signed by Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan confirmed that 3,365 signatures from registered voters had been verified, surpassing the minimum of 2,980 to qualify for the ballot. 

Therefore, the five City Council members have paused the ordinance from taking effect and unanimously approved letting voters decide its fate on Nov. 5, 2024. 

Postponing the measure’s enforcement represents a setback for four City Council members who voted in favor of increasing wages for private health care workers at hospitals and dialysis clinics.

St. Francis Medical Center, a facility with nearly 1,800 employees, was the main employer targeted by the measure, supported by the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West.

The hospital, acquired by Prime Healthcare in 2020, offers 384 beds and runs two other community health clinics.

Arguing in favor of the challenged initiative, council members and union representatives said in February that health care worlers have risked their safety by being overly exposed to COVID-19 patients, rising stress levels, illnesses and absences associated to close contacts and transmissions three years into the pandemic.

But pushback against the ordinance was stiff even before it was approved.

Representatives from the Hospitals Associations of Southern California slammed the ordinance for allegedly creating an unequal policy that excluded workers at nursing homes, public health care providers and community clinics. 

Also, the California Hospitals Association and Health Systems, a group that backed a similar referendum in Downey, criticized the initiative and accused city officials of failure to conduct an economic impact study on hospitals and clinics that had to abide by it. 

In a statement, the No on the Lynwood Unequal Pay Measure campaign said it submitted more than 6,400 signatures to the city clerk on March 22, showing voters should have a say on the ordinance “that excluded workers at 75% of health care facilities.”

According to the California Hospitals Association, the group behind the No on the Lynwood Unequal Pay Measure, health care workers, community clinics, seniors, community organizations, businesses, hospitals and other health care agencies have joined the campaign.

“This is a biased measure that will have a negative impact on Lynwood and particularly our vulnerable populations,” said George W. Greene, president and CEO of the Hospital Association of Southern California. “With the signatures turned in, it’s clear that voters want to decide on this deeply flawed measure.” 

To challenge approved legislation, state election codes required signature collectors to get at least 10% of the 29,806 voters registered in the city, according to the California Secretary of State. 

Lynwood is one of several cities in Los Angeles County targeted by unions to deploy the $25 minimum wage campaign, amid reports of health care workers being overwhelmed with spikes of COVID-19 cases from 2020 through 2022 while often earning meager salaries.  

In Los Angeles, a similar ordinance was halted from being enacted last August to let voters weigh in on its future, likely on the same Nov. 5, 2024 general ballot. 

Similarly, the Downey City Council also voted to have a ballot referendum on the matter the same date, while Long Beach voters will cast votes on its own referendum during a special election slated for March 5. 

Inglewood is the only city whose voters already settled the issue last November, with 53.54% casting ballots in support, compared to 46.46% against it. 

Measure MC began to be enforced Jan. 1.   

Since the campaign for the $25 an hour wages was launched, a persistent inflation measured at 4.9% in April by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, combined with higher housing costs, have pushed some Lynwood health care employees to voice their support for the initiative. 

At the May 16 council meeting, a St. Francis Medical Center steward named Steve said he and many on the staff are tired of tactics aimed at preventing essential medical workers from earning better salaries.  

Speaking on behalf of a group of fellow medical workers, he warned hospital executives that if salaries do not improve, one day they will walk out and patients will bear the brunt of already diminished services. 

“It shouldn’t be a fight,” he said. “We deserve that. All these people here are tired, worn out, and they don’t have an answer. We just keep beating the same dead horse every time we come here. 

“I don’t sleep at night, and at the same time I’m taking care of the people at the hospital who are clinging to life. We are going to keep on fighting until we win,” he added. 

Mayor Oscar Flores and council members Juan Muñoz-Guevara, Jose Luis Solache and Gabriela Camacho voted in favor of the ordinance, while Rita Soto dissented. 

Renée Saldaña, press secretary with the SEIU-UHW, said it is outrageous that “millionaire hospital executives” are vent on cutting wages for their lowest-paid employees who are leaving in droves due to the trauma inflicted by COVID-19 and record inflation.  

“SEIU-UHW members are committed to ending the urgent short-staffing crisis in California hospitals and will fight this referendum,” Saldaña said in an email. “We believe that voters will broadly support the Lynwood City Council’s decision and that similar measures will be passed in other cities,” 

Meanwhile, the state Senate approved a bill calling for a $25 an hour minimum wage for all private health care employees last week, and sent it to the state Assembly for further discussion and voting. 

If the $25 minimum wage bill is signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, it would raise salaries in two steps, starting at $21 on June 1, 2024, and climbing to $25 the following year.

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