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Santa Monica Could Set Minimum Wage for Healthcare Workers

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By Jorge Casuso

April 10, 2023 -- The City Council Tuesday night is expected to take the initial step to set a minimum wage for healthcare workers of at least $25 per hour, nearly $9 higher than Santa Monica's current minumum wage.

Placed on the agenda by Mayor Gleam Davis and Councilmembers Jesse Zwick and Phil Brock, the item is similar to Senate Bill 525, which has spurred debate over the impacts it would have on a healthcare industry reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The bill introduced by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, would impose a $25 minimum wage for healthcare workers, mirroring measures that took effect in Long Beach and Downey last year.

According to Tuesday's agenda item, "The proposed ordinance should explore providing a minimum wage of not less than $25 an hour to all healthcare workers at all hospitals, clinics, and psychiatric facilities within the city."

The proposed measure also could prohibit employers from "funding minimum wage increases via reduced staffing, hours of work, or benefits to current health care employees."

The measure could grant waivers to employers who "demonstrate by substantial evidence that compliance would raise substantial doubt about the employer’s ability to continue as a going concern under generally accepted accounting standards."

The agenda item cites a rise in healthcare job vacancies and the need for "a sufficient healthcare workforce to ensure our community remains healthy and safe."

It also echoes sentiments shared by Durazo, who said healthcare workers "are understaffed and undervalued, and we need to address that.

"When we take care of those workers and they don't feel understaffed or undervalued anymore, that's going to make our healthcare system much, much stronger," the State Senator said.

Proponents of the State bill argue setting a $25 minimum wage for healthcare workers will help address an exodus from the field.

"This bill couldn't come at a more propitious time," Teva Brender, MD wrote in an opinion piece in MedPageToday. "Half of health workers report symptoms of burnout, including nearly two thirds of physicians.

"There has been an exodus of healthcare workers from the field, with even more exits predicted in the coming years. It is undeniable that the healthcare system is in crisis and our collective well-being is at stake," Brender wrote.

The California Hospital Association -- which represents more than 400 hospitals in the state -- counters that measures such as those California and Santa Monica are contemplating will only worsen the crisis.

"This crisis is not theoretical -- California's health care system is on the edge of a cliff," Jan Emerson-Shea, the Association's vice president of external affairs said in a statement to the CBS affiliate in the Santa Francisco Bay area.

"One hospital in the Central Valley has already closed this year; several others are on the verge of shutting their doors; and dozens have had to reduce services just to keep their doors open.

"Any proposal that would further threaten hospitals' ability to care for patients will only mean more uncertainty and diminished care for patients in every community in California," Emerson-Shea said.

Opponents also argue the State bill paying healthcare workers $9.50 above California's $15.50 minimum wage would hurt those trying to enter the field.

"As the late economist Walter Williams proved in research throughout his career, the minimum wage especially hurts the poor and the young just starting out," the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Daily News wrote in a recent editorial.

"He said it cuts off the 'lower rung' of the ladder to success," the board wrote. "Wage decisions should be left to employers and workers to sort out."

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