ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis area’s largest employer is gradually increasing its minimum hourly wage to $15 per hour, a move that it says will benefit more than 3,500 current employees.

BJC HealthCare announced Wednesday that its $10.10 per hour minimum wage will rise to $12.65 per hour on Oct. 27. It will increase to $14 per hour in the fall of 2020 and reach $15 per hour in the fall of 2021, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The pay raises will mostly benefit employees who work in maintenance and patient transport. BJC HealthCare, a nonprofit, has about 31,000 employees and 15 hospitals, with 11 of them in the St. Louis region.

BJC president and CEO Rich Liekweg said the move is intended to attract and retain talented employees.

The minimum wage issue has ignited legal and legislative battles in Missouri in recent years. In 2015, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed a measure that would have eventually raised the city’s minimum wage to $11 an hour. Business groups sued to block the increase.

After a lengthy court fight, the city won and briefly raised its minimum wage higher than the rest of Missouri. The Missouri Legislature, however, passed a law preventing municipalities from raising the minimum wage above the state’s, and the St. Louis law was rescinded.

Missouri voters in November approved a statewide minimum wage increase to $8.60 per hour from $7.85 per hour. The ballot measure called for gradually raising the wage to $12 per hour by 2023.

Earlier this year, another large St. Louis employer, Washington University , announced that it would raise its minimum wage for campus staff to $15 by 2021. That increase would affect 1,200 regular and contract workers, but does not include working graduate students.