BJC HealthCare, Mercy speed move to $15 minimum wage

LOW-WAGE employees at BJC HealthCare and Mercy will be moving to a $15 minimum wage sooner than expected as the hospital systems struggle to retain workers amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

BJC HealthCare and Mercy have accelerated plans to increase their minimum pay to $15 an hour as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, fueled by the rapid spread of the Delta variant, James Drew of the St. Louis Business Journal reports.

Mercy will increase the minimum wage for its workers to $15 per hour on Sept. 19, two years ahead of an earlier plan to phase in higher wages through 2023, said Cynthia Bentzen-Mercer, Mercy’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

BJC made a big splash two years ago when it announced it would move to $15 per hour in three steps – from $10.10 to $12.26 in 2019, then $14 in the fall of 2020 and $15 in the fall of 2021. BJC is speeding its move to $15 an hour by nearly two months, starting on Aug. 29.

“We’re making these changes almost two months sooner to help our team members and their families better meet their financial needs,” Rich Liekweg, BJC president and CEO, said in a written statement on Aug. 27.

The changes in the timelines to reach $15 per hour between two of the St. Louis region’s largest employers raised the question of whether the competition for health care workers has reached a new level of intensity, with health care systems nationwide facing the same pressures as other industries in retaining lower-wage workers.

In the last year, BJC said it has made an ongoing investment of $45 million in compensation, beyond the annual salary planning process, to remain competitive as an employer while addressing staffing challenges in the tight labor market.

BJC has about 30,000 employees systemwide and more than 3,000 open positions.

More than 5,000 BJC employees will receive a raise as a result of the move to $15.

“Our first goal with the commitment was to ensure all of our BJC employees had a living wage for their families,” Laura High, a BJC spokeswoman, said. “The hope was to continue the retention of our current staff, who have many options for their career, as well as recruit new employees to our team.”

Bentzen-Mercer, the Mercy executive, said the Mercy raise will help it stand out in a competitive job market.

The COVID-19 pandemic played a role, Bentzen-Mercer said.

“As we looked at all of the economic challenges associated with Covid and how many of our co-workers were struggling and significant others losing jobs, being laid off, etc., we just ultimately accelerated the timeline on something we previously had in the works,” Bentzen-Mercer said.

Mercy said the move to $15 per hour will cost $18 million annually and raise the pay for more than 14,000 current employees, 6,000 of whom work and live in the St. Louis area, including workers in housekeeping, food service, transportation, pharmacy, medical and lab technicians. It also will serve as the starting wage for new hires.

“We also recognize and are certainly optimistic it will help us fill critical positions as well as retaining critical positions,” said Bentzen-Mercer. “This was really for essential co-workers who are at the bedside or are involved in patient care in some ways and it affected a wide range of co-workers beyond that.”

Mercy has over 40,000 employees systemwide, and about 4,000 open positions.

(Information from the St. Louis Business Journal)


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