The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted us all and continues to do so today. However, healthcare workers most acutely felt the impacts of the pandemic. Many are now leaving the profession, burned out and traumatized. Risky work conditions, low pay, and overwhelming workloads make retaining current workers and recruiting new ones into the healthcare industry difficult.

Healthcare workers were on the front lines of the pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk to save lives and care for others. Yet, despite being called ‘heroes,’ many struggle to make ends meet—earning as little as $15.50/hour. These poverty wages leave far too many workers on the precipice of poverty. According to a recent study by the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center, almost 50% of healthcare workers’ families are enrolled in safety-net programs like Medi-Cal. 

In Irvine, the problem is even more dire. The cost of living for workers in Irvine far outpaces minimum wage growth, where the average one-bedroom apartment costs $2,920 monthly. A full-time worker earning $15.50 per hour makes roughly $32,000 annually before taxes, so a one-bedroom apartment in Irvine costs 112% of that worker’s annual pre-tax income.

People who work hard each and every day to help others should be able to pay rent, buy groceries, and provide for their families. This is why I support passing a $25 per Healthcare Worker Minimum Wage in Irvine.

Irvine would join several other California cities that have done the same, including Long Beach, Downey, Lynwood, and Los Angeles. Voters in Inglewood approved the same $25/hour wage in their city last year. SB 525 (Durazo) is currently being heard in the state legislature to provide the $25/hour wage to workers throughout California. 

Healthcare facilities can afford the new minimum wage. Healthcare corporations benefitted from billions of dollars in government funding during the pandemic; many turned record profits. More than 170 hospital executives are paid more than $1 million a year. The industry has raked in over $63 billion in profits in the five years from 2017-2021. The least they can do is pay their workers a living wage and provide safely staffed patient facilities.

Enormous risks and dangers to caregivers and their loved ones have caused many healthcare workers to leave the industry. As Forbes reported in May 2022, nearly 1.7 million people quit their healthcare jobs last year—equivalent to almost 3% of the healthcare workforce each month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a newsletter, the American Hospital Association President recently explained that staffing shortages have caused hospitals to pay more for costly contract labor for nursing, technician, and other essential positions. Given the high turnover costs, stabilizing the workforce through wage increases can also be considered a cost-saving measure.

It is our turn to join with these other forward-thinking cities, demonstrate our values, and show our local healthcare workers that we are committed to them—while simultaneously sending a clear message to the state legislature that our city supports SB 525.

I am proud to stand with my City Council colleagues and our local healthcare workers to ensure that Irvine residents and their families are well cared for. We all deserve medical facilities that are safely staffed, and healthcare workers deserve a minimum of $25/hour for their vital, lifesaving work.

Councilmember Kathleen Treseder, PhD is the Howard A. Schneiderman Endowed Chair and Professor at University of California Irvine. She leads an internationally recognized research program studying how climate change affects endangered ecosystems and our society. She has served on the Irvine City Council since 2022.

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