Living Wage

May 22, 2003
Living Wage
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
Lourdes Hospital leads the way by paying just salary to workers

BINGHAMTON — May 1 was an important day for some 170 employees at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. St. Joseph the Worker’s Feast Day was the first payday for an increase to a Socially Just Wage. While beginning the program on the Feast Day was a coincidence, the increase to a minimum of $8 per hour was well planned, said Sue Surgent, Director of Human Resources at Lourdes. “The Socially Just Wage is a factored in cost in our budget. We knew we were going to do this. We have been planning for it and planned for the money with the hospital’s budget to do it. So it’s part of our salary planning for the year,” Surgent said. “A socially just wage is figured in our budget costs just like we would a merit increase or we know that we have to hire people,” Surgent added.

Lourdes is the first employer in the Binghamton area to offer a Socially Just Wage. One reason for the increase is to make sure that employees can obtain the basic necessities of life. Also, the hospital wants to be in line with the principles of the Ascension Health Care System and Lourdes to focus on how to help employees balance work and personal needs. “The Board of Ascension Health really looked across the nation and looked at the lowest rates within our system. They said we need to bring those all up to Socially Just Wage rates,” said Sister Marilyn Perkins, D.C., Lourdes Vice President for Mission Integration. “It was a tough decision to make with the budgetary constraints that we’re under. But again, it’s just,” she said.

Sister Marilyn added that $8 per hour does not accomplish a completely comfortable living, but is an attempt to “assist those persons that are most vulnerable and in need.” The hospital’s employees also receive benefits in addition to pay, said Surgent. “Lourdes pays almost $6,000 an employee per year just for medical insurance. And then there’s the paid time off benefits, vacations, holidays, and sick leave and disability and those types of things that are provided by Lourdes that employees aren’t paying for. Those types of things represent roughly 24% of additional costs besides what an hourly wage is.”

Lourdes employees contribute about 15% of the medical insurance premiums, Surgent said. The increase to the Socially Just Wage started with the hours worked during the pay period that began on April 13. Staff members were informed in March that the change would be reflected in the May 1 paycheck. “We had been talking about it, but I don’t think they really thought we’d do it because there is a significant cost involved to do it,” Surgent said. “It’s not a secret that health care isn’t financially booming.” The increase was well received, according to feedback from employees. One supervisor at Lourdes shared the impact on her department. Wilma Lasher is a supervisor in Sterile Processing. “They think that it was a wonderful thing for the hospital to do,” she said. “Some of them held second jobs, maybe cleaning a house one or two hours a week. And one of them has even given up that position because she’s got just a little bit more in her paycheck and can spend more time with her children.”

Lasher noted that an increase to $8 an hour helps keep employees who could have made more money working at fast food restaurants. “You come in here and start here at $6.22 an hour and someplace else without the responsibility is starting you out at the same wage. I certainly would go to the place that doesn’t have the responsibility that you have here. So we’re able to train our employees and then retain them,” she said. “Our employees are our most valuable resource.” Surgent has heard from some employees who benefitted from the increase to the Socially Just Wage. She has also received some response from employees who are making just above the $8 per hour, what they call the “compression area.” Lourdes plans to review those already making $8 to $12 for a possible wage increase “in the near future.” “They may have been here for a very long time and making just over that $8 an hour and we were a little concerned about that compression issue and how they would feel about that,” Surgent said. “We tried to communicate that we needed to take care of things one step a time. And we were very, very pleased with the response the employees came back with in that range in what we call the highest compression area, still saying thank you for doing that. We’re proud to be a part of an organization that will do that.”

The Socially Just Wage concept is being discussed in the community, according to Sister Marilyn. “People have said that’s really great that Lourdes has done this. Are the other area hospitals going to do it? I don’t know. But it has a positive impact.”

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