ELLSWORTH — In a pay rate change that affects about half of all employees, The Jackson Laboratory recently announced it was raising the minimum wage for hourly workers to $18 an hour, effective immediately. The announcement was made on Aug. 2 and comes five years after a company-wide increase to a minimum $15 an hour.
Employees involved with animal care and operations, research, administration and other technical areas are among the workers to benefit from the wage increase. In addition to the minimum starting wage increase, the “vast majority” of hourly employees will receive an increase in their compensation later this month, according to lab officials.
“We understand that our greatest resource is our people. And we work every day to make sure that they are taken care of here at JAX,” Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Catherine “Katy” Longley said. “This includes staying ahead of the market with respect to compensation, generous health, retirement and benefit packages.”
Jackson Lab expects to spend more than $5 million annually in increased hourly wages. The lab has 2,400 employees in Maine, California and Connecticut. In Maine, there are 70 open positions focused in animal care, customer service and IT. Lab officials said they expect higher wages to contribute to employee retention and draw new workers. The nonprofit is based in Bar Harbor and has a mouse-production facility in Ellsworth.
The change in pay scale comes at a time when many area businesses are experiencing a worker shortage during the height of the summer season.
While many or most local businesses are paying $18 an hour for “hospitality-type jobs or part-time jobs,” Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Gretchen Wilson said, “I’m not sure if that’s sustainable year-round. But definitely we’re seeing that in terms of seasonable jobs.”
“And that still hasn’t drawn out the number of employees that everybody needs,” she added. “Is it competitive amongst the other businesses? Yes. And it does raise the level of minimum wage in the area, but along with it comes the housing issues, the day care issues, the transportation issues. It’s so multifaceted right now.”
In Wilson’s view, it will take a couple years for the local employment situation to become more stable after the last near-18 months of pandemic-affected employment. “There’s so many people who have not come back to work for a variety of reasons, and not necessarily for the pay.”
At Jackson Lab, no employees were laid off or furloughed during the pandemic.
“This latest hourly wage increase puts into action and recognizes the contributions of our frontline employees and how they directly contribute to the productivity and success of JAX,” Longley said.