A victory for advocates of raising the minimum wage for health care workers in Culver City was short-lived after a new council immediately revoked a resolution hours after it was passed.
On Monday, the outgoing Culver City Council voted to raise the minimum wage for health care workers to $25 an hour.
Those health care workers affected by the change included workers in private sector hospitals, “integrated health care delivery systems” and dialysis clinics across the city.
The meeting included public comments from those in favor of the ordinance and those opposed. Among those who expressed their support were health care workers and union members who were not physically present but invited to the meeting.
The vote passed with 4 to 1 in favor, with the only vote against by the deputy mayor Albert Vera.
The motion served as bookend to that iteration of the Culver City Council. Monday night’s meeting also served as a swearing-in for newly elected council members and a farewell for those leaving.
Mayor Daniel Lee left the council and was replaced by Vera. Council member Yasmine McMorrin then became deputy mayor.
Incumbent Alex Fisch failed to secure re-election in November, bringing two new members to the council: Freddy Puza (who was endorsed by Lee, Fisch and McMorrin) and Dan O’Brien (who was endorsed by Vera and councilor Göran Eriksson).
The new council composition has been described as conservative-leaning with O’Brien, Eriksson and Vera at the helm.
After Lee and Fisch said their goodbyes and Puza and O’Brien were sworn in and seated on the council, Eriksson called for repealing the newly passed ordinance to raise the minimum wage for health care workers.
Eriksson’s motion came more than two hours after he himself voted to approve it.
The city attorney told the council that a motion to reconsider cannot be made during the same meeting unless the person making the motion was originally part of the majority vote.
Because Eriksson previously voted in favor of the ordinance, the motion was allowed to proceed and was seconded by O’Brien after some explanation.
The newly organized council then voted on the ordinance for the second time within hours.
Vera, O’Brien and Eriksson voted against; McMorrin and Puza voted yes.
The political maneuver caught some council members by surprise and resulted in critics on social media calling Eriksson’s change an act of political gerrymandering.
Even O’Brien, who said he would not have supported the ordinance hours earlier, seemed surprised by the previous council’s renewed work.
“As much as I feel sorry for all the people who spoke, because this is their life and I know how hard it is to make it, I’ve been in their positions, not in health care, but I don’t think the city council. should set … wages for a specific industry,” O’Brien said.
The new council member added that he believed in a universal minimum wage and said he would be willing to accelerate those discussions in the future.
Standardizing the minimum wage of health care workers is not unheard of in California or the Los Angeles area.
Culver City would be the fifth city in Southern California to pass a “fair pay” ordinance for health care workers, joining LA, Downey, Monterey Park and Long Beach. Last month, voters in Inglewood approved a measure to raise wages to $25 for health care workers at private facilities.
McMorrin, who before the change was celebrating becoming the city’s first black woman to serve as Deputy Mayor, said she was disappointed in how her colleague handled the proceedings.
“The fact that we’re doing this at the end of the meeting, and the people who are directly affected are no longer on the call, it’s disheartening that we’re starting this way,” McMorrin said.
Later on Twitter, McMorrin said she stood with health care workers and regretted that the new council’s first act was to undo the ordinance.
In a press release after it was initially believed the order had passed, Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, a union representing thousands of healthcare workers across California, said he welcomed the minimum wage increase.
He added that the $25 minimum wage would reflect the “life-saving work” health care workers do and said the pay increase would help address staffing shortages throughout the state’s health care system.
A survey of union members found that most health care workers feel their facility is understaffed, and up to 20% of respondents said conditions have left them considering leaving the profession altogether.
“Due to demanding work, low wages, high inflation and stress, I have seen many health care workers come and go, especially since the start of the pandemic. Some have chosen to leave their hospital jobs for retail or restaurant jobs that pay more and have fewer health risks,” said La Rhonda Smith, a speech therapist at the Hospital of Southern California in Culver City.
Smith added that raising the minimum wage would help keep more workers in the health care system and help attract more people to the field.
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