Paul Junod is the Director of Human Resources for Bon Secours Virginia Health System, one of the largest employers in the Richmond area and a Silver Certified Employer with the Richmond Living Wage Certification Program. The following are his remarks at the Launch event in Richmond on March 22, 2018.
Good morning Mayor Stoney, Rabbi Creditor, Reverend Hunter, Mr. Gordon, and to all those gathered here to highlight this important movement in our nation to promote dignity and respect in our workforce through the provision of a living wage.
As I pondered the topic “Why Living Wages Matter”, my mind first went to the many positive business outcomes that employers realize through the provision of a living wage. In fact, Henry Ford realized that a century ago when he significantly increased the wages of his workers so that they could afford to purchase the Ford Model T automobiles they were building. Ford’s strategy worked and it was considered revolutionary for the time. All of us here can articulate the many business reasons why paying a living wage, or as we call it at Bon Secours a “just wage,” makes good business sense. We expect a larger number of more qualified applicants from which to choose when we post a job opening. We would expect lower turnover and higher employee engagement both of which reduce expenses and improve customer satisfaction. We expect to have more motivated workers who are more productive. So, you get the idea, we would all agree that it makes good business sense to pay more, especially in times like we have now with a significant labor shortage in the Commonwealth and unemployment rates hovering around 3½ percent.
At Bon Secours, the motivation for us to pay a just wage is much simpler than all of the reasons I just listed. As a ministry of the church we believe strongly that our coworkers are our brothers and sisters in God’s global family; and that they were all made in His image. Thus, for us it is a moral imperative that we make decisions, such as offering a just wage, that reflect this belief. So, our philosophy around living wage goes well beyond the hourly rate. We design our health insurance plan so that lower wage earners pay less for their coverage; the same coverage, not a watered down plan. We have on-site childcare for employees at three of our larger facilities. Our lower wage earners receive a “scholarship” for their children. They pay half of what other workers pay for childcare. This means that lower wage earners’ children experience top tier childcare instead of unlicensed and potentially unhealthy or even dangerous care settings.
We partner with other organizations and ministries to do things like making ownership of a reliable vehicle possible for those who earn less. We structure our college tuition benefits to make it more feasible for lower wage earners to take advantage of that benefit. And the list goes on. The point is that a living wage goes far beyond the rate of pay; it is instead an overall philosophy of how we, as an employer, support our coworkers so that they can thrive, not just survive.
Today our living wage is set at $11.75 with plans to increase incrementally each year until we reach $15 an hour by 2022. That will affect more than 3000 employees and each year as we increase the rate, it permanently increases our payroll cost by $1.5 million. In healthcare we operate on pretty thin margins and we have many priorities for our limited resources; yet, we have made the decision that paying a living wage is one of our highest priorities for the ministry. Our next project is to work with those contractors who provide services to us to compel them to follow our lead and to commit to paying a living wage as well. Their employees are part of our family, too.
Finally, we want everyone to know that we don’t pay a living wage with an eye towards locking people in the lower wage job categories. Quite the opposite, we pay a living wage with a goal of developing our lower wage earners to enable them to move into higher paying careers.We have many examples of former housekeepers or childcare workers becoming radiologic technologists, school teachers, or registered nurses.
In other words, we do it not to lock them in, but to build them up. That is our goal.
Thanks to all of the employers represented here today for your support of your lower wage workers; after all they are members of our family, too. Congratulations on being recognized today.