- California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a law raising the minimum wage for thousands of healthcare workers in the state from $15.50 an hour to $25 per hour.
- State lawmakers argued in the law’s text that competitive wages are necessary to attract and retain healthcare workers who provide critical services, noting that “even before the COVID pandemic, California was facing an urgent and immediate shortage of healthcare workers, adversely impacting the health and well-being of Californians.”
- Although wage increases will begin rolling out next year, the timeline for implementation depends on facility type. Large health systems with more than 10,000 workers and dialysis clinics must implement the law fully by 2026, while rural independent hospitals and those with a high mix of Medi-Cal and Medicare patients have until 2033 to implement the new wage minimums.
The law, backed by California healthcare unions, broadly defines healthcare workers as full-time or contract employees of a healthcare facility, including those in roles supporting the provision of healthcare, such as janitors, clerical workers, food service workers and medical billing personnel.
The wage increase is projected to impact approximately 469,000 employees, many of whom are currently living on the margins, according to an analysis from the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center.
Nearly half of California’s healthcare workers do not presently earn enough to cover basic needs, such as housing, and are enrolled in public safety net programs, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center.
Newsom signed the bill into law on the same day that Kaiser Permanente unions announced they had secured a tentative $25 per hour minimum wage for over 60,000 California-based Kaiser employees, pending ratification from members. California healthcare workers were represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West president Dave Regan during Kaiser bargaining.
In Senate analyses of the minimum wage bill conducted in May and September, lawmakers said that SEIU-UHW’s organizing elsewhere in the state had motivated the state-level analysis of pay. The union spearheaded several similar local ordinances last year, including in Los Angeles and San Diego.
SEIU California, which sponsored the bill, released a statement on Friday saying that raising healthcare workers’ wages is a matter of equity. Three out of four workers who will see increases in wages thanks to the new law are women, and 76% are workers of color, according to SEIU California. Almost half of all healthcare workers affected are Latino, the union said.
“Governor Newsom signed SB 525 into law because he heard our call for change to a status quo that has left us exhausted and struggling to pay our bills,” Dr. Kelley Butler, resident physician at San Francisco General Hospital and member of SEIU California, said in a statement. “I’m proud of our collective advocacy as a union and proud of our Governor for doing right by the California healthcare workforce and the patients it serves.”
The law went through several edits since the beginning of the legislative session to make it more palatable to healthcare facilities, which largely opposed its passage earlier this year. An earlier version of the bill, debated in May, tasked all healthcare providers with instituting the new minimum by June 2025.
The final version of the law has a phase-in approach that grants some workers the new minimum by 2026 and leaves others waiting ten years to reap the full sum. Healthcare facilities that are in financial distress can also apply for a waiver program to temporarily delay payroll hikes. Tribal clinics are excluded from the new pay requirements entirely.
The California Hospital Association, a lobbying organization, ultimately supported the law, saying in a statement that it provided “stability and predictability for hospitals” by providing more reasonable phase-in requirements and “preempting city and county minimum wage measures for 10 years and local compensation measures for six years.”
The dialysis industry also got on board after lawmakers added an amendment which prevents SEIU from pushing for ballot measures targeting dialysis centers. The union’s unsuccessful lobbying for changes in the dialysis industry has cost the healthcare industry over 100 million dollars in recent years, according to reporting from CalMatters.