California Raises Minimum Wage for Health Care and Fast-Food Workers

by Ella

In a significant move benefiting thousands of workers in California, Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law two pivotal pieces of legislation aimed at boosting minimum wages for health care and fast-food employees in the state.

Under the first of these laws, signed earlier this month, the minimum wage for all health care workers in California is set to increase to $25 per hour by 2028. Simultaneously, the second law mandates a minimum hourly wage of $20 for fast-food workers, with this raise taking effect in April.


As it stands, California’s overall minimum wage, already one of the highest in the nation at $15.50 per hour (surpassed only by the District of Columbia), will climb to $16 on January 1, 2024. The state’s voters are slated to decide in November 2024 whether to raise it even further to $18 per hour.


Notably, these newly enacted laws represent a unique approach, marking California’s first venture into statewide minimum wage standards for specific economic sectors. According to labor economist Enrique Lopezlira at the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center, this underscores the growing influence and appeal of organized labor on a national scale.


Public support for unions in the United States is currently at its highest level since the 1960s, based on Gallup polls. California has mirrored this trend with the emergence of unionization initiatives and a wave of strikes across various sectors, including Kaiser Permanente employees, dockworkers, and Hollywood writers and actors.


Lopezlira remarked, “The pandemic just really highlighted for many workers how precarious their work is. Workers at all levels of the wage distribution and all levels of the industry and occupation distribution are realizing that they want better working conditions.”

He added, “A lot of these workers were deemed essential and then treated as sort of disposable by employers, so that’s also fueling some of these efforts.”

Health care workers, in particular, have faced challenging conditions in recent years, dealing with burnout while grappling with meager wages. A study co-authored by Lopezlira revealed that nearly half of the low-wage health care workers set to benefit from the new minimum wage increase relied on safety-net programs such as Medi-Cal and food stamps.

These industry-specific wage hikes align with a broader nationwide trend of gradual pay increases for workers in the U.S. Discontent with the federal minimum wage, which has remained stagnant at $7.25 per hour since 2009, has prompted city and county leaders to adopt their own minimum wage ordinances. Before 2012, just five cities or counties in the country had their own minimum wage laws. Today, that number has surged to 56 cities and counties, as reported by the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center.

A significant proportion of these municipalities are located in California, driven by the high cost of living in certain regions, especially along the state’s coastline. Enrique Lopezlira pointed out that, “The high cost of living in some parts of the state, particularly along the coast, makes it difficult to make ends meet.”

At present, West Hollywood boasts the highest minimum wage in California at $19.08 per hour. Following closely behind are Emeryville, Mountain View, Berkeley, and San Francisco, each with minimum wages of around $18 per hour.



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