A nonprofit that operates 10 health centers downtown, in South Los Angeles and in Compton will increase its employees' pay to a minimum of $15 an hour in what it deemed an anti-poverty measure intended to jump-start "living wage" efforts around the region.
The wage hike by St. John's Well Child and Family Center, to be announced Thursday, will increase the pay of 137 workers, many of whom now make $11 to $12 an hour.
The chief executive of the health provider said that as it celebrates its 50th year in existence, St. John's wants to honor its historic roots.
"When you are an anti-poverty organization, formed as part of the nation's War on Poverty, you have to think about the question of how you are paying your employees," St. John's CEO Jim Mangia said. "Are you paying your employees poverty wages when you are a social-justice organization?"
Advocates campaigning for higher pay around the country have argued that a $15 hourly wage, lifting workers to about $30,000 annually, is enough to boost many families above the federal poverty level and reduce their dependence on government assistance.
Some business groups, meanwhile, say raising the wage will end up costing jobs and pushing consumer prices higher.
St. John's worked out the higher wage arrangement with Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents its workers. Employees will immediately get a 3% pay increase and the 137 earning less than $15 an hour will jump to at least that level in March 2015.
Mangia said the increase is in part an acknowledgment of the greater workload the health centers have shouldered with the advent of the federal healthcare reform law. The clinics had 180,000 patient visits in 2013, compared with about 120,000 the previous year.
Maria Elena Durazo, chief of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said St. John's was setting an example that "it's possible to deliver quality healthcare and provide quality jobs."
The Los Angeles City Council is studying a proposal by three of its members to mandate a minimum wage of $15.37 an hour in non-union hotels in the city — with union hotels negotiating wages with their workers.
Hotel owners have said the proposal unfairly singles out their industry. Durazo has declared her intent to spread the higher wage to other Los Angeles businesses.