Last week, after multiple votes within a single day, a host of verbal concessions and future promises between legislators, and a few amendments, a bill that would raise the minimum wage for all health care workers in all settings in California to $25 an hour squeaked through the state Senate with the minimum number of votes needed.
None of the amendments or promises change the fact that Senate Bill (SB) 525 would increase health care costs by $8 billion annually at a time when health care providers are facing unprecedented financial challenges. Unless this bill is defeated, California’s most vulnerable patients will be hurt first and most, as hospitals and other providers close or reduce services just to keep their doors open.
Health care workers need fair wages and benefits for the care they provide — indeed, hospitals provide compensation better than almost 90% of all other sectors in California. But increasing costs so rapidly, without consideration for hospitals that are on the edge of a financial cliff, will only further deteriorate California’s health care system. State Sen. Anna Caballero, who represents Madera County, whose only hospital closed this winter, said as much before voting against the bill: “… timing is everything.”
The bill now moves to the Assembly, where it will be heard in the Labor and Employment Committee. As we begin work with a broad coalition to reject this bill in the Assembly, it’s important to note that several members of the Senate — before voting in favor of the legislation — suggested that it would need to change significantly before it returned to their chamber for a second vote.
From state Sen. Caroline Menjivar (D-Panorama City), who chairs a health budget subcommittee: “I’ll be reluctantly voting on this bill to allow the senator to continue to bring those players to the table. But if this bill comes back to us in the same form, I won’t be able to support it.”
Among the amendments that carried the bill forward is a delay in the $25 per hour minimum to 2025, rather than 2024. In 2024, the minimum wage would increase to $21 an hour. Other amendments include tweaks to reduce the amount that salaried employees would be required to receive to be exempt from overtime and create annual increases that are the lesser of 3.5% or the national rate of inflation (the bill previously mandated the higher of the two).
As we begin work in the Assembly, more than ever, your voices and your relationships with legislators will be critical to this work over the next couple of months.
Please keep an eye on your inboxes for more information about SB 525 and how you can help.