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Johns Hopkins University, Health System to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour

Johns Hopkins, Baltimore’s largest private employer, will increase the minimum wage at its university and health system to $15 an hour.

The hike affects some 6,000 Maryland workers — 1,700 in Johns Hopkins Health System and 4,834 at the Johns Hopkins University — and about 300 workers in Florida at Hopkins’ All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, the institutions announced Thursday.

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The move is consistent with the institution’s work to enhance job opportunities and social capital in Baltimore, said Ronald J. Daniels, Hopkins University president.

“We see this as one more way to recognize the front-line workers, especially in the lower-paid categories,” said Kevin Sowers, president of the Hopkins health system. “This is a moment of investment in our people and also a step towards ... a healthier and more equitable community. We all know that paying higher wages to entry-level employees not only betters them financially, but it also makes our communities healthier.”

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Johns Hopkins announced that it will increase the minimum wage at its university and health system to $15 an hour. The move will affect some 6,000 Maryland workers.
Johns Hopkins announced that it will increase the minimum wage at its university and health system to $15 an hour. The move will affect some 6,000 Maryland workers. (Karl Merton Ferron)

It will apply to workers across job types and include full-time, temporary, student and full-time contract workers, he said. The change will take effect July 1 for university employees and Jan. 1 for health system workers.

Hopkins officials said they expect no impact on tuition levels or hospital rates as a result of the increased wages. The systemwide $9 million cost will be covered through budgetary savings and additional sources of revenue.

The institution plans to look over the next couple of years at how to deal with the issue of wages for workers who already earn $15 an hour but won’t be given a corresponding pay boost.

For now, Daniels said, “we felt that this was an opportune time for us to speak powerfully to employees with this commitment. We’re in a moment where issues around inequality in particular in this country are front and center.”

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Hopkins said it also wanted to get ahead of a 2019 state law that is gradually raising the minimum wage in Maryland, now at $11.75, to $15 an hour by 2025 for companies with at least 15 employees.

Hopkins supported that legislation, which was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan before the Democratic-majority General Assembly overrode it. Hogan, a Republican, objected to a proposal he said would put Maryland businesses at a disadvantage, cost the state jobs and hurt the economy.

The announcement coincides with a projected economic boom, said Karyl Leggio, professor of finance at Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business.

”Attracting and retaining workers will be important as the economy comes flying back,” Leggio said. “It could be entirely altruistic that they’re increasing the minimum wage, but also a very strategic preempting of the need to seek employees at a competitive wage.”

Leggio said many firms in Maryland and elsewhere likely will follow Hopkins’ lead.

”All companies in the region are competing for a set number of workers, so if one competitor in town is offering $15, others will follow suit,” she said.

Several large private employers, including Amazon, Costco, Target and Walmart, already boosted base wages to $15 an hour.

Hopkins’ move also follows a similar one by LifeBridge Health, which raised the minimum wage for more than 1,100 hospital workers to $15 an hour in January. That wage increase applied to workers in patient care, environmental services and food service. The LifeBridge system includes Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Northwest Hospital, Carroll Hospital and Grace Medical Center.

LaShaun Faulkner, 34, who has worked her way up to better-paying jobs and her current role as a rehab technician over 17 years at Hopkins hospital, said setting a higher base for minimum pay will benefit all hourly employees, especially those who are not unionized and working for the lower, state minimum. When the union she belongs to negotiated a $15-per-hour minimum for long-term employees in 2018, she benefited from an increase as well.

“It’s still hard,” said Faulkner, who rents an apartment in Owings Mills. “Baltimore is such an expensive place to live. ... There were times I had to have a part-time job to help pay the bills.

“The cost of living is steadily rising, and the minimum wage is rising very slowly,” said Faulkner, whose job involves supporting physical, occupational and speech therapists. “For Hopkins to be on board with a $15 minimum wage, it’s long overdue. It’s something we all need. I think it will take a burden off of some people’s shoulders.”

State Sen. Cory McCray, a Democrat from Baltimore who sponsored the state’s phased-in minimum wage bill in 2019, said fair wages will help the state recoup funds it otherwise would spend on families below the poverty line.

”The state is saving money because the family can adequately take care of themselves,” said McCray, adding that many of his constituents are from low-income backgrounds and may work multiple jobs to survive.

He also pointed out that Black people, particularly Black women, benefit most from such wage hikes.

”Top-down is not working; you have to go bottom-up,” he said.

While Hopkins might be able to afford the wage hike, small firms in the state often don’t have the same luxury, said Mike O’Halloran, state director for National Federation of Independent Business in Maryland. He said the move may put unfair pressure on independent business owners and force some to cut staff, hours or benefits or close altogether.

”The reality is, small businesses in Maryland don’t have the financial resources, so it’s not apples to apples, it’s apples to yams,” O’Halloran said.

Contract employees who work as campus security officers and in food service on the university’s Homewood campus already have negotiated for a minimum wage increase to $15 through two separate unions.

About 200 members of Unite Here Local 7 who work as food service workers on the university’s Homewood Campus and Peabody Campus are covered by a union contract in which the lowest-paid classification rose to $15.38 an hour in February 2018, said Roxie Herbekian, the local’s president. The members are contract workers employed by Bon Appetit, but they will become direct employees of the university in June 2022. The lowest-paid classification for those workers is currently $16.68 an hour.

“All workers in Baltimore should be making at least $15/hour,” Herbekian said. “It’s about time.”

Other contract employees on campus will be included in the current increase.

Hopkins’ workers in Florida will be paid the $15 minimum five years before that state phases in an increase to that level. Washington, D.C., where Johns Hopkins Sibley Memorial Hospital is located, already has adopted a $15 minimum wage.

Lisa Brown, executive vice president of the Maryland/D.C. region of 1199 SEIU, said most of the nearly 2,000 SEIU members at Hopkins hospital were on track to reach a $15 minimum before the state deadline.

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“But this will move them ahead faster, and for those who are over [$15 an hour], it sets a floor that’s more reasonable to fight from,” Brown said. “Once you start raising the floor, you have to start raising the ceiling.”

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“We see it as a positive step,” she said.

Brian Petruska, general counsel for LIUNA Mid-Atlantic Region — Laborers’ International Union of North America — said Hopkins’ systemwide minimum wage hike will be more significant for future hires.

Most of the 600 university carpenters, electricians, plumbers, research animal handlers, custodians and landscapers LIUNA represents already earn more than $15 an hour, and a contract ratified earlier this week set starting wages for custodians at the $15 hourly rate. The contract included pay raises but also the layoffs of 34 maintenance workers at the Hopkins School of Medicine.

Hopkins said its decision reflects a broader commitment to increasing opportunities in its local communities through local hiring, purchasing and contracting. Over the past five years, the university and health system have hired more than 1,900 people from targeted neighborhoods.

Terrell Williams, co-director of the leadership development program Turnaround Tuesday in Baltimore, said Hopkins has been instrumental in helping residents from disadvantaged communities get living-wage jobs. The Turnaround program helps ex-offenders and the unemployed get jobs.

Those jobs “have allowed our participants to purchase cars, homes, while paying taxes and sending their children to college,” Williams said. “Our relationship with Johns Hopkins is an example of what happens when community and institutions understand their common goal of full living-wage employment.”

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