Minimum wage word written on wood block with American Dollar-bills. Directly above. Flat lay. Employment concept.
(Credit: Jennifer Miranda / Getty Images)

A California bill that proposes increasing the minimum wage to $25 for direct care workers and support staff members has plenty of opponents, including senior living industry advocates.

Senate Bill 525, introduced by state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), would apply to workers in assisted living communities and other healthcare settings, raising the state’s hourly minimum wage from its current $15.50. 

The bill would increase wages beginning Jan. 1, not only for direct care workers, but also for support workers, including janitors, housekeepers, groundskeepers, business office staff members, food service employees and laundry workers. 

Opponents include the California Assisted Living Association, the California Association of Health Facilities, LeadingAge California and the California Chamber of Commerce, which argued that the “astronomical increase in labor costs that will result from SB 525 is simply not sustainable.”

CALA signed onto a letter with 36 other healthcare organizations to the California Senate Appropriations Committee urging members to vote against the bill. The letter-writers argue that the legislation, if passed, will reduce access to healthcare services and increase costs for businesses and residents.

The signers also maintain that the bill, if it becomes law, will add billions in annual costs for providers, forcing them to reduce services or close, creating job losses that would “hurt the very healthcare workers it is intended to support.”

“California’s economic climate is profoundly challenging,” the letter reads. “Staff shortages, supply chain disruptions, inflation and rising housing costs are difficult for all. Unfortunately, SB 525 exacerbates these challenges by picking winners and losers — raising income for some workers while increasing costs for every other worker and their families.” 

LeadingAge California similarly cited “significant concerns” about the effects of the legislation on long-term care providers and residents if it were to become law.

“Mandated, unfunded wage increases like this could exacerbate the existing healthcare workforce crisis, lead to debilitating impacts for providers and the older adults they serve and worsen access to care for countless Californians,” LeadingAge California Vice President of Legislative Affairs Amber King told McKnight’s Senior Living. “With many providers experiencing unprecedented workforce challenges and significant increased costs, we question the need to implement a mandated change to wages at this time, especially for providers who are working hard to protect and improve the lives of older adults in California, and when making this change could ultimately threaten access to care.”

SB 525’s sole focus on wages, King added, does not consider the myriad benefits and retention incentives offered by providers to attract workers, including education, training and career-ladder opportunities.

“LeadingAge California supports wage increases and believes that they should be part of a broader discussion around workforce solutions and include pathways to bolster employment and training pipelines for healthcare workers,” she said. 

Durazo, the state senator, said that increasing the minimum wage for residential care facility workers and all other healthcare workers statewide will help providers attract and retain employees and enable workers to support their families.

“California is facing a healthcare workforce crisis,” she said. “Prior to the pandemic, California was facing a shortage of 500,00 healthcare workers to care for our aging population. Now, after facing the trauma and dangerous working conditions of the pandemic, many are struggling with low pay and poor working conditions.”