'Understaffed and Undervalued' - $25 / hour minimum wage proposed for California health workers
SAN PABLO – State lawmakers hope a minimum wage of $25 for all healthcare workers in California will help with a shortage in that industry, introducing legislation this session at the Capitol.
Workers say they are living paycheck to paycheck at the moment and have taken on a second job to help cover expenses.
"I love being a community healthcare worker in pre-natal," said Chante Jones, a pre-natal community healthcare worker at a medical center in San Pablo.
"I am there to educate parents, teen parents, to let them know about their body. And to let them know that somebody is there that's going to help you through your pregnancy."
Jones said the hourly wage increase she would receive under the proposed minimum wage would be life changing as she struggles to pay her bills and take care of her 16-year-old daughter, who lives with her. She has worked at the same place for 11 years and wouldn't consider another job that pays more because she remains dedicated to her profession.
"When you're at the grocery store, I got to tell my daughter we can't get this, we have to wait until next week, or wait until the next paycheck, and she's like, 'I don't understand, you work,'" Jones told KPIX. "I can pay my rent a lot more easier and wouldn't have to worry about being homeless or sleeping in my car."
State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo introduced Senate Bill 525 this year, explaining healthcare workers are a significant part of the economy and their industry impacts everyone. She knows some workers could make more if they switched to a job in food services.
"They are understaffed and undervalued, and we need to address that," said Durazo, a Democrat who represents District 26 in Southern California. "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."
Some cities have passed local ordinances with a minimum wage of the same amount, but she wants it to become the law statewide.
Durazo said even with a pay rate of $25 an hour, some workers could still qualify for very low-income housing in California.
Industry representatives were skeptical about the proposal.
The California Hospital Association represents more than 400 hospitals in the state and said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has already taken a toll on the industry, including reducing access to services for patients.
"This crisis is not theoretical — California's health care system is on the edge of a cliff," Jan Emerson-Shea said in a statement, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association. "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 went on to say in a statement provided to KPIX.
Durazo said taking care of healthcare workers is part of the bigger picture to improve patient care. She also said that women and people of color make up the majority of the positions that would be impacted by this minimum wage, which would help achieve more equity in the economy.
"I don't see paying the people who take care of patients, taking care of them, so they can take care of patients who are ill, I don't see that as a bad thing," Durazo told KPIX.
Jones said they're short staffed at her medical center and worries about how sustainable it is for workers like her to live in the same place as their patients. She said her current income is too much to qualify for programs that could help her pay for monthly expenses.
This situation can make her feel unworthy at times but Jones refuses to consider any alternative that takes her away from the work she does day after day.
"I feel like we were the healthcare heroes and now we're like down as a villain," Jones said. "If we haven't been there to help our community, who's going to have the compassion and love for them like I do and my other coworkers, so we can't leave, we have to stay to help."
According to the legislature, Senate Bill 525 will have an upcoming hearing on April 12.
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