California health care workers could earn $25 minimum wage after union, hospitals make deal
Hundreds of thousands of health care workers in California are likely to secure a new minimum wage of $25 an hour as the Legislature successfully sent the bill Thursday night to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
One caveat, though, is workers would have to wait between three and 10 years to see the full wage.
Senate Bill 525, introduced by Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Maria Elena Durazo and backed by unions, would ensure a minimum wage of $25 for a wide variety of employees at covered health care facilities. The wage floor applies to direct patient care providers, such as nurses, physicians and medical residents, but also to workers in support positions, such as janitors, housekeepers, food service workers, medical billing personnel and gift shop clerks.
Until recently, the bill faced staunch opposition from the hospital industry along with community clinics and dialysis centers. But a series of last-minute amendments and agreements, which include a four-year ban on ballot initiatives and referendums brought by the unions or health care industry against one another, cleared the way for the bill’s passage.
The Assembly voted 59-11 to approve the bill Thursday evening just after dinner; the Senate concurred along party lines, 31-9, shortly after 11 p.m. Original provisions of SB 525 narrowly passed the Senate in June with the minimum 21 votes.
“I’m very proud of everyone who came to the table,” Durazo said shortly after the Assembly’s vote. “At first it seemed impossible, like there was just too much to overcome.”
The version of the bill that lawmakers sent to Newsom differs starkly from the original measure. Along the way, amendments introduced a three-tiered phase-in that would leave some workers at government-funded health facilities waiting 10 years to see the full $25 floor. Additional amendments made in the Assembly included a requirement to establish a waiver program by March so health facilities that are in financial distress can temporarily delay payroll hikes.
Swapping minimum wage for dialysis ballot measures
A broad coalition of hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis clinics and community health centers originally denounced the bill and ran attack ads that said the measure would reduce health care access and cost $8 billion a year.
But this week, the union sponsoring the bill cut a last-minute deal with health care industry players and settled on a series of compromises that gave the bill a path forward.
SEIU California, whose various locals represent health care workers across the state, and the dialysis clinics agreed to not bring forward any legislation or ballot measures, at the state or local level, for four years.
In the last three election cycles, SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, which represents more than 100,000 workers, has poured millions of dollars into three unsuccessful propositions that would have required dialysis clinics to have at least one physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant on duty while patients are under treatment. SEIU-UHW is one of the main proponents of SB 525.
“This agreement protects patients from the ongoing threats at the ballot and in the Legislature while also providing additional wage increases for many health care workers,” said Jaycob Bytel, a spokesman for the California Dialysis Council.
The union sponsors of the bill also agreed to a 10-year moratorium on local ordinances that would establish higher minimum wages specifically for health care workers. Municipalities could raise the health care minimum wage starting in 2034.
“As amended today, SB 525 strikes the right balance between significantly improving wages while protecting jobs and safeguarding care at community hospitals throughout the state,” said Carmela Coyle, leader of the California Hospital Association, in a statement before the vote. “We urge the Governor and Legislature to approve this landmark agreement.”
Shortly after the Assembly vote, Durazo said she believed the deal came together because both sides acknowledged that recruiting and retaining health care workers is increasingly difficult and agreed that wages were an important component in addressing the problem. She indicated that the unions agreed to sit down and discuss options for how to get to the $25 wage without hamstringing cash-strapped hospitals.
Durazo also said Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, and Senate Speaker Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, were instrumental in bringing the final bill over the finish line.
“You can’t know exactly which moment, which minute, it broke through, but I think all those pieces were important,” Durazo said.