By Kim Hilsenbeck
At $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage in Texas – which is also the federal minimum wage – a full-time worker can earn $290 a week or roughly $15,080 annually. The U.S. Congress last raised the federal minimum wage in July 2009.
The Seton Family of Hospitals, part of Ascension Health, does not believe $7.25 an hour is a living wage.
Recently, the nonprofit organization decided to raise the minimum wage it pays entry- level employees to $11 an hour. Prior to that, Seton was already paying more than the state-mandated minimum, with most positions at about $10 an hour.
At $11 an hour for a 40-hour week, an employee would earn about $440 or roughly $22,880 a year before taxes.
Seton Medical Center Hays CEO Neal Kelley, a long-time employee, didn’t find the decision surprising.
“Seton has always paid what they call a socially just wage,” he said. “They were paying $7-8 an hour when minimum wage was $5.”
Kelley said a socially just wage is the same thing as a living wage.
But what does that mean, exactly?
“It pays for the basics,” he said. “Shelter, food, transportation. Maybe it’s not good for a family.”
He continued, “I’m not saying it will be easy with $11/hour, but one other benefit is that Seton pays 100 percent of healthcare costs for lower wage employees.”
That means as you make more, you contribute more. That also means lower wage employees keep more of what they earn.
Kelley said all full and part-time Seton employees receive benefits including healthcare insurance.
But the Seton minimum wage positions are relatively low on the corporate ladder, so to speak. The entry-level posts are typically in environmental services (housekeeping), custodial services and food service.
Kelley said the decision to up the base pay affects seven employees at Seton Hays. But he said other employees who started as entry-level have already progressed through the company and earn more money.
He believes Seton is a desirable company to work for, noting he has been with the organization for the better part of 30 years. He started as a nurse.
“Every time we run an ad for an [entry-level] position, it’s not uncommon to have 40-50 applicants,” he said.
Kelley said those jobs generally attract younger workers and not necessarily those with a family.
“We generally pay more and have better benefits than fast-food chains or other intro-level jobs,” he said.
In terms of economic impact, Kelley believes a higher minimum wage benefits the community overall.
“When payroll goes up, [employees]have more discretionary income,” he said.