Healthcare workers rally for higher pay, more staffing under Senate Bill 525
by Kevin Smith
Hospital janitors, medical assistants, resident physicians and nursing home caregivers rallied Thursday, May 11 in Pasadena to urge passage of a bill that would boost staffing for California healthcare workers and raise their minimum wage to $25 an hour.
Senate Bill 525, introduced by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Echo Park, would replace California’s current base pay of $15.50 for employees in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, dialysis clinics, behavioral health centers and scores of other facilities.
The workers, most of whom are non-union, say they’re burned out and traumatized from the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and chronic understaffing. Those factors, they say, have caused workers to leave their profession “in alarming numbers.”
Gary Poe, an outreach coordinator at St. John’s Community Health in Los Angeles, said his facility — where employees are represented by SEIU Local 721 — is one of the few in Southern California that has already boosted its minimum wage to $25 an hour.
The two sides recently reached a three-year labor agreement that includes “a firm financial commitment” to retain and attract new healthcare workers.
‘Facing a crisis’
Poe said employees at many other Southland hospitals and clinics are “overworked and facing a crisis” every time they sit down to pay bills.
“Many of them have to take on two jobs or work more hours to get by,” he said. “Some have had to take out payday loans. They’re living paycheck to paycheck.”
Thursday’s rally at the ChapCare Medical and Dental Health Center in Pasadena drew healthcare workers from facilities throughout Southern California.
A recent report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center said SB 525 would especially benefit workers of color, who represent 70% of California’s healthcare industry, as well as women, who account for three out of four healthcare workers.
And the economic impact, the study said, would be minimal.
“The higher wages collectively represent 1.3% of personal health spending in the state,” the center said. “While there is large variation across types of facilities, the wage increases would raise operating costs by about 3%.”
No on AB 525, a coalition of healthcare, government, business and educational groups that oppose the legislation, disagree, saying it would result in higher health insurance premiums and higher costs for state and local governments.
“SB 525 (would increase) costs by $8 billion every year when healthcare providers are already strained — leading to cutbacks and closures in services,” the coalition said.
Durazo said the pay increase is needed so employees can earn “decent wages” and afford to live where they work.
“Women and workers of color who are the backbone of our healthcare system have been underpaid and devalued for decades,” Durazo said in a statement. “They’ve risked their lives and health and are working multiple shifts only to take home poverty wages in understaffed facilities.”
SB 525 will be presented at a Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee hearing on April 12. If approved, it would take effect Jan. 1.
Jim Mangia, president & CEO of St. John’s Community Health, said his facility raised its minimum wage to $25 an hour earlier this year “to compensate our staff for their critical work to save lives and make communities healthier.”
“We urge the Senate to pass SB 525 so that all healthcare workers in California, who provide essential care that we all need, can pay their bills with peace of mind,” Mangia said Thursday.