Council officially adopts $5 minimum hazard pay for hospital workers

The ordinance, which sunsets after three months, meant to recognize workers

The city council voted Monday to officially adopt an ordinance that would require hospitals in Culver City to provide workers a minimum of $5 hazard pay increase.

At the May 24 council meeting, the council voted in a similar 3-2 to introduce an ordinance to provide premium hazard pay to on-site hospital workers, comes after a similar ordinance for retail workers was approved 

The ordinance dictates that on-site hospital workers entitled to no less than a $5 per hour increase to hourly pay. This includes workers employed directly by the hospital and those who are contracted, and the ordinance sunsets in 3 months after taking effect starting July 14.

An increased number of speakers made their opposition to the ordinance known as compared to the May 24 meeting, saying it takes precious resources away from an already struggling financial situation.

Culver City Chamber president Collin Diaz once again spoke, noting that the ordinance would start a month after the state reopened, and still excludes others who worked in similar circumstances to retail workers and hospital workers, such as firefighters, paramedics, and transit workers.

Another speaker, Joe Rich, responded to a statement from Vice Mayor Lee at the previous discussion on the topic regarding the bonus pay numbers of the main focus of the ordinance: Southern California Hospital – Culver City (SCHCC).

Rich stated the institution formerly known as Brotman Hospital spent an additional $10.8 million during the pandemic providing for its frontline workers, $6 million of which went directly into hospital workers’ pockets. 

Speakers also noted that there were two different projects that the hospital was working on: an emergency room project and a stroke center.

There were plenty of workers who spoke in favor of the ordinance, speaking of their struggles and exposures to COVID during the pandemic as well, and those who wanted to support those workers from the outside.

Legal challenges were a primary fear from Councilmembers Eriksson and Vera, but a speaker noted that similar challenges have been dismissed on the basis of no merit.

The viewpoints of the council members had not changed a great deal from the previous meetings, but there were several points brought up by speakers that members addressed.

Most of this honor went to Lee, who first addressed a June 12 editorial piece by the Orange County Register on Culver City’s hazard pay ordinances.

The piece implies that Lee is being influenced by the workers union that represents those at SCHCC:  Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU), based on an email exchange obtained by the paper on May 21. 

“In a May 21 email to Vice Mayor Daniel Lee, the lead organizer for SEIU’s political department complained that Mayor Alex Fisch ‘still seems to have very cold feet. We have agreed to take on all legal responsibility, have shot down all legal arguments, and have agreed to formally rebuttal (sic) the arguments being made,’” the article reads.

Lee stated that while he had applied for a position at the union close to 10 years ago, he had never worked for or been affiliated with SEIU as a speaker implied as a result of that article.

He also noted his belief that Rich’s numbers regarding bonuses are deceptively inflated by requirements laid out by local and federal governments as part of the total incentives given.

His other point that supported his argument was first hand experience.

“[SCHCC] claims to focus on care, but I have seen with my own eyes in the emergency and on video calls with employees who work at the hospital…showing me the holes in the walls, the leaks, the permeable barriers that were supposed to protect non-COVID patients from COVID patients,” Lee said.

“These are things I saw with my own eyes. They were not hearsay.”

The idea that the pay is for the work done over the three months the ordinance will be in effect was also challenged by Lee, with him reminding people that it has been mentioned several times that this pay is to compensate for what should have been given to workers in the height of the pandemic.

“We are compensating people for the physical, mental and emotional stress that they, their families, and their friends had to go through during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lee explained.

He finally said that the decision was not so much on him as it was on other members, and whether or not they would be “intimidated” by the hospital.

Eriksson then spoke, first addressing his principle that it was not a local government’s place to interfere in labor negotiations, noting that since then, the union and hospital came to a three-year collective bargaining agreement, and refuted Lee’s point that he was “intimidated.”

Councilmember Vera also brought up the exclusivity issue, asking why other public servants don’t deserve similar treatment to retail and hospital workers.

He also addressed Lee’s comments regarding intimidation, saying that it was simply a difference in opinon that guided the difference in their choices, and that his words did not help.

Fisch and McMorrin both echoed similar sentiments to previous discussions on the topic, with Fisch noting that Culver City is still remaining more cautious than the county regarding the June 15 reopening.

Finally, Vera asked for clarification regarding the potential to rescind the ordinance before the three month period is up, which was clarified by city staff as being done through another agenda item.

With that, the vote was taken, and the motion passed 3-2 with Eriksson and Vera dissenting.