Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Hanover Co-op raising their minimum wage

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/9/2021 4:52:59 PM
Modified: 9/9/2021 4:53:08 PM

LEBANON — Two major employers in the Upper Valley said Thursday they are boosting the minimum wage that they offer workers, another sign of the scramble to find employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health said it will pay at least $17 per hour effective Oct. 3, a $3 increase over its $14 minimum threshold.

And the Hanover Co-op said it would start paying a minimum of $15 an hour on Oct. 3, an increase of about $2.

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock increase applies to all of its hospitals and clinics in both New Hampshire and Vermont, and is most likely to benefit lower-wage workers in such fields as housekeeping and food service in the Lebanon-based health system, which has about 13,000 employees.

“The increase covers anyone employed by D-HH, including Environmental Services and Food and Nutrition Services staff,” D-H spokeswoman Audra Burns said via email.

Along with its flagship Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and 24 clinics in New Hampshire and Vermont, the D-HH system includes Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon; Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, N.H.; Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor; New London Hospital; and the White River Junction-based Visiting Nurse Association of Vermont and New Hampshire.

D-HH CEO Joanne Conroy last week had previously told the Valley News the health care system planned to increase wages to contend with a nationwide staffing crunch in the health care industry.

In a news release announcing the boost in minimum pay, Conroy said, “Fundamental to achieving our mission is recognizing and supporting our employees, and we are proud to take steps to ensure our pay and benefit programs are highly competitive in the health care industry and, increasingly, and necessarily, outside the health care marketplace in the regional economy.”

D-HH had already boosted its minimum rate of pay to $14 an hour in December, and said the increase to $17 comes during “acute staff shortages across all positions” and is intended to “recognize and retain staff by staying aggressive with wage programs and providing a competitive starting rate of pay.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock said current employees in affected pay ranges will receive a base pay adjustment in October to reach a minimum of $17 per hour.

The Co-op Food Stores has about 360 employees at its four stores in Hanover, Lebanon and White River Junction, auto-service centers in Hanover and Norwich, and a Co-op Kitchen in Wilder. Co-op spokesman Allan Reetz said the wage increase is expected to impact one-third of employees, or about 120 workers.

Tracy Hutchins, the executive director of the Lebanon-based Upper Valley Business Alliance, said the increases by both employers are an attempt to address the staffing issues that businesses throughout the region are facing.

“There’s just such a need for more people to fill the open positions and there’s a lot of competition right now between employers,” she said.

Hutchins noted that the unemployment rate — now 2.9% in the Lebanon area — had dropped back to pre-pandemic levels, in part because a number of people have also dropped out of the workforce. She said she had heard of some entry-level fast-food positions paying $15 an hour, and one restaurant paying as much as $22 an hour for a dishwasher.

“I don’t think D-H and the Co-op increasing their wages is going to put more pressure on employers. I think the pressure is already there. I think they are just reacting to the pressure that already exists,” Hutchins said.

The Co-op two years ago had pledged to raise its base pay rate to $15 an hour by 2024, but said it “got fast-tracked” as part of an overhaul of compensation for workers, which starting next spring will also include a process to “more directly reward employee performance based on skills they possess and those they can acquire through training and development.”

The overhaul is intended to address the need for a higher minimum wage, to compensate Co-op workers for their skills and to address “wage compression,” which occurs when the pay for more experienced workers may need to also be adjusted when the minimum wage is increased.

“There are opportunities here for everyone. Paying fair, competitive wages is the ultimate result,” Hanover Co-op Director of Administrative Operations Lori Hildbrand said in a news release Thursday.

The minimum wage in New Hampshire is tied to the federal rate and is $7.25 an hour. In Vermont it is $11.75 an hour.

John P. Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.

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