Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to raise the wage of about 140,000 home healthcare workers paid through a state program partially funded by the county.
Their pay will go from $9.65 an hour to $11.18 over the next year and a half.
It was the first major decision on salaries made since a new board majority took office in December. It also marked the first time the board had suspended a fiscal rule put in place by the outgoing board last year, requiring a four-fifths supermajority on votes to increase worker pay and benefits.
The vote on pay for the workers, who care for sick, elderly and disabled county residents, could foreshadow the outcome of a pending proposal by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to follow the city of Los Angeles' lead and raise the minimum wage for county workers and those laboring in unincorporated areas from $9 to $15 by 2020. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he also plans to soon propose increasing the “living wage” paid to county contractors.
“I do believe that there is a readiness to address income inequality in the county of Los Angeles,” he said.
The home care workers — who would not have been covered by a county minimum wage hike — have packed Board of Supervisors meetings over the last several weeks to push for a raise to $15 an hour. They had urged county officials to pass a plan before July 1, when the state will take over responsibility for bargaining on in-home workers' contracts.
The proposal by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Hilda Solis approved Tuesday will increase the workers' pay to only $11.18, but will do so on a faster timeline than the proposed increases in the minimum wage.
Ridley-Thomas and Solis said their intent was to put the home care workers on a “path to $15.”
The state, which splits the cost of the home care workers' pay with the county, will not contribute money toward any wages above $11.18 unless the Legislature acts to lift a current salary ceiling. County budget officials said earlier this month that a raise to $15.25 an hour for the workers would have cost county taxpayers an additional $374.1 million annually by 2017-18.
The increase to $11.18 an hour is estimated to cost the county an additional $11.9 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year and an additional $30.6 million in 2016-17.
The workers will receive the 16% total pay increase in several phases. The workers will first get an increase to $10 an hour when the state minimum wage increases in January; the wage will then jump to $11 in February and to $11.18 in February 2017.
Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU ULTCW, the United Long Term Care Workers union, said, “It's a proud day for Los Angeles home care workers. They've been behind for so long.”
Supervisor Don Knabe offered an alternative proposal under which the home care workers' wages would follow the increases in the minimum wage until they reach $11.18. Knabe said the approach would be “more fiscally prudent than raising wages on a more aggressive basis.”
That proposal failed, with Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich voting for it and the other three opposing it.
Knabe said he thought suspending the fiscal policy that required a supermajority vote for salary increases would send the wrong message to credit rating agencies that monitor the county's fiscal health.
“I really think it's a bad precedent,” he said. “This is an issue we worked hard on to make sure we have the proper credit ratings.”
When the previous board implemented the policy, it was seen as an attempt to guard against excessive spending by a new, union-backed majority. Ridley-Thomas said Tuesday that he thought that instituting the policy was an “overreach” that “delays or retards progress.”
The board voted 3 to 2 to suspend the policy, with Antonovich and Knabe voting against doing so. But Antonovich then joined Ridley-Thomas, Kuehl and Solis in voting in favor of the pay increase, with Knabe casting the only opposing vote.
Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.