Backroom deal to change earthquake standards at California hospitals falls apart

A secret deal between a group of hospitals seeking to weaken seismic upgrades at medical centers and an influential union seeking to raise employee pay collapsed on Tuesday, just days after it was made public.

The last-minute alliance between Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and California Hospital Assn. infuriated other unions, who accused the unlikely couple of striking a backroom deal that circumvented the legislative process and put patients, healthcare workers and communities at risk.

In a hospital association memo obtained by The Times, the group said the deal with SEIU-UHW was reached quickly and followed years of failed attempts to delay a state law requiring that hospital buildings will be retrofitted in the event of an earthquake by 2030. Hospitals estimate the upgrades cost $100 billion, a tab they say will likely lead to statewide closures.

Before the deal was reached, the hospital association and the SEIU-UHW had been locked in an uphill battle to raise the Los Angeles County minimum wage for hospital workers. The agreement between the two would have required lawmakers to sign the agreement before the end of the August 31 legislative session.

The California Hospital Association. called for a seven-year deferral of the 2030 requirement and limiting the standards to hospital buildings that provide emergency services, according to a draft proposal obtained by The Times.

In exchange, unions would see the minimum wage for health care workers rise to between $19 and $24 an hour starting Jan. 1, with the highest wage going to workers in counties designated as urban or semi-urban. Wages would have increased by $1 an hour in 2024, bringing the minimum hourly wage for some workers to $25.

The SEIU-UHW on Tuesday accused the hospital association of straying from a “conceptual agreement” on labor provisions. In response, the union announced that it would instead pursue the statewide minimum wage for healthcare workers it was seeking in the deal through the state or state legislature. a ballot measure.

The hospital association wrote in the memo that the deal “was unable to move forward this year due to several factors, including high stakes, a short timeline, the commitment of the ACH not to accept changes that would erode the protections included in this proposed bill, and other organized labor groups in opposition.

“We know this strategy has created difficult and at times contentious discussions,” the hospital association’s memo said.

Almost all hospital buildings in the state met seismic standards under a 1994 law to ensure none collapsed during a major earthquake. The law was passed after the Northridge earthquake that year caused severe damage to hospitals.

Under the same law, a higher standard – that hospitals not only remain standing but are able to operate after a major earthquake – must be met by 2030. Nearly three decades later, nearly two-thirds of California hospitals have not yet met the 2030 requirements, according to the hospital association.

Los Angeles Times

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