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St. Louis University Hospital

St. Louis University Hospital's Desloge Tower as seen from the east side of South Grand Boulevard on Monday, June 1, 2015. Photo By David Carson,

The Service Employees International Union plans to seek a wage increase as the labor union prepares for its first contract negotiations with St. Louis University Hospital’s new owner, SSM Health.

A handful of SEIU members petitioned outside St. Louis University Hospital on Tuesday afternoon calling for the minimum wage to be at least $15 per hour and 5 percent annual wage increases over the duration of the expected three-year contract.

SEIU represents about 650 nonclinical workers in roles such as food service and housekeeping, Lenny Jones, director of the Kansas and Missouri SEIU health care division, told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday.

The hospital’s nurses are represented by another union, National Nurses United.

Jones said the wage increases are the union’s top priorities as they head into the first day of negotiations on Wednesday. Officials with Creve Coeur-based SSM confirmed negotiations start Wednesday.

“At SSM Health, we value our employees and know they are vital to our mission of providing high quality health care to the communities we serve. We are committed to negotiating in good faith with SEIU,” according to a statement provided by hospital spokesman, Jason Merrill.

The current contract is set to expire at the end of March. That contract had been negotiated between SEIU and the previous hospital owner, Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. The hospital was acquired by SSM Health last year.

Caprice Nevils, a longtime employee who is also on the bargaining committee, said the desired increases are fair.

“We get raises every year but I feel that the $15 an hour would be better. I think that move would help everybody out. I think it’s fair that we get it because we’re working hard.”

About one-third of the 650 represented, or about 216 employees, are making less than the $15 wage being proposed, Jones said.

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Samantha Liss • 314-340-8017

@samanthann on Twitter