CoxHealth will raise entry-level wage to $15.25 per hour beginning in October

Gregory J. Holman
Springfield News-Leader
CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards announced on Aug. 24, 2021 that the health care system would raise entry-level employee pay to $15.25 per hour, at a cost of $25.5 million.

Amid a tight U.S. health care labor market, CoxHealth is giving 6,500 employees a raise that will cost the organization $25.5 million, CEO Steve Edwards said Tuesday.

The new starting wage for Cox staff will be $15.25 per hour. Staffers on Cox's two payroll systems will see the raise take effect in their October paychecks, Edwards said.

Cox said the increase is the largest in its history. Meanwhile, the new starting wage offers nearly 50 percent more buying power than Missouri's current legal minimum wage of $10.30 per hour, set to increase to $11.15 per hour next year.

The move comes a day after Cox announced it would begin requiring all of its workers to vaccinate against COVID-19, following full FDA approval of one of three vaccines found to be effective against the novel coronavirus.

More:As FDA announces full approval for Pfizer vaccine, CoxHealth mandates COVID-19 shots for all employees

Unvaccinated employees who choose not to get a first dose of vaccine by Oct. 15 could face job termination, though the health system is offering the possibility of exemptions for medical or religious reasons accompanied by regular testing.

Cox's raise announcement took place just four days after the hospital system's crosstown competitors at Mercy Springfield announced an $18 million investment raising Mercy entry-level wages to $15 per hour, as the News-Leader reported earlier.

"Mercy made a good decision last week," Edwards said. "We have to respond to that."

More:Mercy will increase minimum wage for all employees to $15 an hour

He called the timing of Cox's raise announcement "critical" due to shortages of available health care workers.

Cox's new raise will shave off half of the not-for-profit organization's bottom line, Edwards said, adding that he believes the investment is worth it.

"I actually personally believe that people ought to have a living wage," Edwards told reporters at a news conference in the Cox South hospital lobby Tuesday afternoon. "They work hard... I actually feel really good that healthcare is leading the way. It will help others. I know other institutions will probably make similar announcements soon, so I think it might be a rising tide."

Among Cox's nearly 12,000 employees, 5,000 are currently making less than the new entry-level wage, Edwards said. Another 1,500 higher-ranking employees whose wages are near the $15.25 level also will get raises to avoid "salary compression," he said.

"These people right here got a $7,000 raise as I speak," the hospital leader said, gesturing toward a handful of front-line workers stationed at the hospital entrance to offer masks and screen visitors with temperature checks.

More:Organizers of Mercy protest helped plan confrontation of Cox CEO, Walmart workers

As the News-Leader reported earlier, Springfield-area health care systems have offered a series of entry-level wage increases in recent years as concerns over living wage issues have become more frequently voiced in public discourse.

Cox raised its starting wage to $9.50 per hour in 2017, then raised it to $10.50 per hour in 2019, and the system announced a $12 per hour starting wage in February. Burrell Behavioral Health announced an entry-level wage increase in 2018.

Sixty percent of Missourians who voted in Nov. 2018 approved a plan to step up the statewide minimum wage by 85 cents each year, starting from its 2018 level of $7.85 per hour and capping off at $12 per hour in 2023. That move came as roughly 20 U.S. states moved to increase their minimum wages.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and has not been raised by Congress since summer 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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Reach News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by emailing gholman@gannett.com. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.