Atrium Health increased the hourly minimum wage for all of employees in Charlotte and Winston-Salem over the weekend, transitioning to $17.50 per hour on Jan. 14, raising wages for 31,700 hourly workers including nursing aides, medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and environmental services technicians.
Up from where it stood at $16.50 per hour, Atrium Health’s hourly employees in North Carolina will now make $10.25 higher than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour.
“Together with our teammates, we have created an incredible workplace culture to care for patients and communities,” said Christie Peterson, chief human resources officer for Advocate Health’s Southeast Region. “Part of creating and sustaining a great culture is ensuring we are compensating our teammates not only for the great care they provide each and every day, but also in a market-competitive way.”
The minimum wage increase comes with an increased base pay for salaried workers by at least 3% for the health system. This increase will amount to an additional $117 million in salaries for over 64,000 Atrium Health employees, according to a press release from Atrium last week.
Atrium is the largest employer in the Charlotte area, according to Charlotte Business Journal, employing around 39,000 people locally.
In addition to the minimum wage increase, Atrium Health plans to provide $125 million in additional compensation programs for its employees through bonuses, raises, and other incentives. The additional compensation is expected to total $328.4 million.
The decision to increase the minimum wage is part of an effort by the company to attract and retain talent amid a shortage of qualified clinical staff, though it tracks with the health care system’s efforts to raise wages consistently over the last decade. Atrium Health has raised its minimum wage every year since 2012, last week’s release stated, with a total increase of 140% since 2012.
“Every day, our teammates deliver exceptional care for our patients and communities, so it is essential that we prioritize taking care of them too,” says Ken Haynes, president of the Southeast Region of Advocate Health. “That’s why we continually make these types of investments into our workforce, to make sure we are attracting and retaining the best talent.”
Headquartered in Charlotte, Atrium has been in operation since 2001. Following a blockbuster merger with Midwestern health-care company Advocate Aurora Health that created Advocate Health, doubling the size of each respective company to become the fifth largest health-care organization in the country, Atrium currently has more than 64,000 employees.
The company also has facilities in other states including Georgia and Alabama, where workers will see their minimum wage increase from $14 to $15 per hour.
What wage is needed and where do Charlotteans earn it?
To compare with some of the other largest employers in the Charlotte area, Atrium’s biggest competitor, Novant Health, implemented a minimum hourly wage of $17 in March 2023.*
Bank of America, which employs around 15,000 people locally, announced a $23 hourly minimum wage in October 2023, part of its plan to reach $25 by 2025, while Wells Fargo, which employs closer to 28,000 people locally, last raised its minimum wage in 2021, bringing it to $22 per hour.
The lowest-paid city employees in Charlotte saw their hourly rates go up to $22 as of this month, part of raises instituted in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, while the minimum hourly wage for Mecklenburg County employees is currently at $20.
According to the 2023 State of Housing Instability and Homelessness Report, the hourly wage needed to afford a one-bedroom unit in Mecklenburg County while working full-time is $21.04, up from $17.96 per hour in 2020.
A March 2023 report on how much money a person would need to make to “live comfortably” in the largest U.S. cities, released annually by SmartAsset, listed the Charlotte area as one of the more affordable metropolitan areas in the country, finding that a single person could live comfortably in the Charlotte metro area on an annual salary of $62,110 after taxes — about $83,000 before taxes.
A worker would need to make close to $40 per hour working 40 hours a week, or work more than 91 hours per week at an hourly rate of $17.50 to make $83,000 a year on hourly pay.
*An earlier version of this story stated that Novant had increased its minimum wage to $21 last March, which was incorrect.
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