The University of Kentucky is about to take a huge step toward improving the quality of life for hundreds of its employees, and other workers in this labor market.
UK recently announced that President Eli Capilouto will ask the board of trustees at its meeting next month to approve a pay plan that will make $10 an hour the minimum starting pay for all its non-student hourly workers.
Currently the low end for hourly workers is about $7.54 an hour. That would mean an increase of almost $100 a week, pre-tax, for UK's lowest-paid workers.
On an annual basis, assuming a 40-hour work week, it means a jump from $15,683 to $20,800, before taxes and other deductions.
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That difference, staff trustee Sheila Brothers said, can be "transformative ... People can change neighborhoods, change cars and add padding to their retirement."
Under Capilouto's plan, which has an estimated cost of $1.3 million, the next tier of employees, now making up to $11.99 an hour, will receive a salary bump.
In total, about 950 employees will be affected on the main campus, which plans to roll out the new wage scale July 1, and on the medical campus, which will institute the new minimum wage on Oct. 1.
Capilouto is absolutely right to propose this just, forward-thinking move that will benefit the university as well as the employees.
It's a smart move that will make it easier to attract quality employees, reduce costly turnover and improve services for the entire university community.
That's why Walmart wagered $1 billion to raise the minimum wage for 500,000 workers in its stores to $9 this year and $10 next year.
When the wage hike was announced in February, Bloomberg Business reported it was made "with the goal of retaining better employees and making them more productive in their jobs."
Higher minimum wages also mean fewer people who work will depend upon taxpayer-funded social-welfare programs, such as Medicaid or food stamps, to keep their families housed, fed and healthy.
The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, the heart of the recession. While 29 states, and some local governments, including Louisville, have adopted a higher minimum wage, the Kentucky General Assembly has not seen fit to give Kentucky workers a boost.
Legislation to raise the minimum wage in Fayette County has been introduced but will not likely come before council until this fall.
UK is not alone. The University of Louisville began a similar effort a couple of years ago, moving to a $10 an hour minimum with a plan to step up annually to reach $11 an hour by July 2017.
In Lexington, city government full-time employees begin at a minimum wage of $11.15 an hour. And now Walmart workers throughout the state are making more.
We commend UK on joining the ranks of employers who recognize that when workers receive a decent wage, everyone benefits.