As Saint Luke’s raises minimum wage to $15, more groups push to make it the norm

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The “Fight for 15” is over in one hospital system with locations in Missouri and Kansas.

On Wednesday, Saint Luke’s Health System announced their new permanent minimum wage for employees will be $15 per hour.

Hospital administration said the move is a show of gratitude and will support frontline staff during the pandemic.

“Each Saint Luke’s employee plays a vital role in our mission of delivering excellence in health care. And that has never been clearer than during these long months of the COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Melinda L. Estes, Saint Luke’s Health System president and CEO.

But labor activists say to them this is a big win for low-paid workers.

Staff with the group Missouri Jobs with Justice said Saint Luke’s didn’t just pull the $15 amount out of thin air. People likely remember protests, often involving fast food employees, going back all the way to 2012.

And as Saint Luke’s is being highlighted for raising its minimum wage, employees at other hospitals say $15/hour should be the norm.

Shirley Caston works in the G.I. lab at Research Medical Center, a competitor to Saint Luke’s.

“When I say gastroenterologist, that means everything from the top to the bottom,” Caston said.

She started at the bottom 35 years ago, getting just $5/hour. She’s finally passed the $15/hour mark, but many of her co-workers haven’t reached that point yet — even during the pandemic.

“And you’re working hard and you’re coming to work every day, and they might want to reward you with a little more something per hour, but we haven’t been given any of that,” Caston said.

Richard von Glahn, policy director for Missouri Jobs with Justice, said he applauds the move made by Saint Luke’s.

“I think what the pandemic has really shown is just how essential all workers are, and the designation of essential workers, where you really see that being placed, is often on lower wage workers,” von Glahn said.

He also said although it’s great what’s happening at Saint Luke’s, he credits outside workers for applying pressure.

“Fifteen dollars is a demand of workers. It was demanded by workers, launched by workers; workers had been in the streets fighting for this. This idea did not originate in a corporate board room,” von Glahn said.

Laura Barrett is the Missouri campaign coordinator for Service Employees International Healthcare Missouri Kansas. The union has about 90,000 members and locally has about 4,500 members comprised of medical tech and support staff, janitors, unit secretaries and other miscellaneous jobs.

“Other healthcare facilities need to pay attention to what Saint Luke’s is doing and match them because workers right now are just working their hearts out,” Barrett said.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Caston said.

“However, it took a long time to get there, and unfortunately in the midst of all that, it left a lot of hardworking people, dedicated working people in poverty. And that’s exactly where they are. They’re in poverty,” Caston said.

Looking outside of just hospital systems, statewide in Missouri, a new minimum wage will take effect on January 1. Minimum wage workers will see an increase from $9.45/hour to $10.30/hour. Labor groups anticipate that increase will impact about 30,000 health care workers in Missouri.

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