Both Johns Hopkins University and Health System will establish a $15 minimum wage, affecting 6,000 employees in Maryland, the institution announced Thursday.
The change will take effect on July 1 for university employees and on the first day of 2022 for health system employees; outside of Maryland, the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, will also increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Student, contract and temporary workers will be eligible.
“We take seriously our responsibility to serve as an engine of opportunity in Baltimore and every community we serve,” said Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels in a statement. “Paying higher wages to employees supports both them and the local communities in which we live and work.”
But Teachers & Researchers United, a Hopkins graduate student organization looking to unionize, criticized the university for excluding them from the pay increase.
In a Twitter post, TRU stated that “grads are excluded once again. @JohnsHopkins doesn’t think we’re employees, and many grad students make starvation wages and live at the poverty line. (Let’s) work together, unionize, and ensure living wages that keep up with cost of living.”
Ph.D. students are typically not considered “employees” by the university, although many receive stipends for work as teaching and graduate assistants. This distinction precluded them from receiving a $500 bonus that Hopkins gave to its essential workers in the fall to thank them for their work throughout the pandemic, the Johns Hopkins News-Letter reported in February.
“Typically, whenever the university says employees, it’s deliberately trying to work around graduate students,” said Alex Parry, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in administrative medicine and an organizing member of TRU.
He said graduate students would like to work with the university to get their stipends raised in tandem with the announced wage increase, but that graduate students have hit a wall when trying to negotiate with the school’s administration in the past.
“I’m glad other people at the university are getting paid ($15 an hour),” he said. “But I’m unhappy that grad students are not going to get that raise.”
Karen Lancaster, a Hopkins spokesperson, confirmed that stipends will not be impacted, but added that “we have many supports in place to assist our graduate students.”
Hopkins is five years ahead of the state of Maryland, which in 2019 passed legislation that will raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2025. The minimum wage has been progressively increasing, and, as of Jan. 1, 2020, it is $11.75 for employers with 15 or more employees and $11.60 for those with 14 or fewer.
Hopkins supported the legislation at the time, submitting testimony in February 2019 that called the bill “an important bill that will move Maryland toward becoming a healthier and more equitable State.”
“Johns Hopkins acknowledges the widely supported benefits of raising the minimum wage and is currently working toward increasing the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour across the university and health system,” the testimony read.
Student groups and labor organizers have previously pushed for $15 an hour pay for certain employees, such as in 2017 when a coalition of student protesters known as the Student-Labor Action Coalition pushed for that wage for contract employees, according to reporting in the News-Letter.
In Baltimore, $15.84 an hour is considered a living wage for a single adult with no children, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator.
Hopkins began working to raise the wages of several positions, from lower-level administrative roles to food service workers and custodians, in 2019 following the passage of the Fight for Fifteen legislation.
“We’re a large enterprise and after taking those steps, after careful analysis as we are really trying to come out of the pandemic, we realized we were (able to) do this on an enterprise-wide basis,” said Alicia Wilson, Hopkins’ vice president for economic development.
Though Hopkins was not able to say how many positions have experienced salary increases in that time, the number of undergraduate students working for less than $15 an hour dropped by 800 between 2020 and 2021.
The initiative is part of the institution’s HopkinsLocal program, a commitment of both the university and health system to hire locally and work with Baltimore businesses.
Since the program was established, the university and health system have exceeded their goals, officials said, hiring more than 1,900 people from specific neighborhoods and ZIP codes in Baltimore, where median income is low and where there is great need for employment. To reach its goal of 40%, it needed only to hire 1,200 employees from those neighborhoods.
“Raising the minimum wage will allow JHU and JHHS to further deepen the impact of HopkinsLocal efforts, with benefits for families and neighborhoods across our local economy,” according to a press release.
The university and health system collectively make Johns Hopkins the largest private employer in the state. Hopkins officials hope that their choice to set a $15 minimum wage will set an example for other employers, including academic-medical institutions around the country, few of which have previously taken this step, to Wilson’s knowledge.
“This is a part of the ethos of Hopkins,” she said. “To bolster (employees) financially but also think about individuals’ health and well-being.”