With about a week left in his term, several organizations are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to give back to New York City’s social service workers before he leaves office.
The call comes in the form of a letter penned by outgoing City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and a coalition of over 100 non-profit service providers. In the letter, the organizations are calling on the mayor to enact a 3% annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for those working in the nonprofit human service sector on the front lines.
“This past year has been the most remarkable year in a bad way that service providers have ever had. For homeless shelters, our staff is with clients, but others, like senior centers, totally closed,” said Christine Quinn, CEO and president of Win, who previously served two terms as City Council speaker. “What we saw when other people got to work from home, some of the corporate staff worked from home. Those who were in shelters were essential workers who had to go to work. They were dealing with family issues, zoom school, parents not having senior centers to go to. They kept coming to work, servicing 5,000 clients and keeping them healthy.”
Currently, nonprofit human and social service workers are among the lower paid employees in New York City, with these employees making 71% of what government employees in similar roles make. Additionally, 15% of nonprofit human services workers qualify for government food assistance.
The letter notes that the Mayor’s Office has allocated $24 million to nonprofits to cover costs that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not make a dent in the sector’s wage problem. The 3% COLA would amount to an additional $60 million in income for 125,000 workers.
That bump, Quinn believes, will help convince those currently employed at social services agencies to stay on the job.
“Turnover at social service agencies is high. This would reduce turnover, which is not only cost saving for human service organizations but also better for clients because staff is there longer,” said Quinn. “People who work in shelters don’t get paid a lot of money. There are people who work in human service industries that live in shelters — this funding could mean that they move out of a shelter and have enough money for what their children need. These people aren’t going to take a trip to Europe, this will help with the basics.”
The letter states that to continue to allow human service workers to live on these low wages is unacceptable, not only because of the degree of difficulty that the work has but also because many of the people working in this sector are women of color and it contributes to the “long history of the devaluation” of women and women of color.
For Quinn, the situation is more than just about a paycheck — but rather holding the city to higher standards.
“You can’t be New York, the greatest, richest city in the world and presents as great diversity and compassion if you’re not going to have high quality services to help people and pay a true wage to live on,” said Quinn. “It counters what New York is about.”
amNewYork Metro has reached out to the Mayor’s Office for a comment. Read the letter in full below:
Dear Mayor de Blasio:
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and the undersigned nonprofit groups implore you to enact a 3% annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the human service sector before you leave office. The undersigned organizations represent many in New York City’s nonprofit community providing essential human services like child care, education, domestic violence counseling, senior services, homeless services as well as supportive and affordable housing. New York City’s human services workforce is key to sustaining New York and its vitality, yet your administration continues to undervalue our labor. For the good of the City, this must change.
In FY20, after years of automatic increases, the COLA for city contracted human service organizations expired. Despite protests from the sector and the City Council’s recommendation to reinstate it, your administration failed to do so. Only after intense advocacy and Council support, did you allocate $24 million to nonprofits to cover costs incurred as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although that funding is appreciated, it does not solve our wage problem. Our sector needs an annual COLA in order to recruit and retain staff. This is particularly true during this well-documented period of labor shortages that finds social service agencies in stiff competition for staff; we need this increase to remain even remotely competitive in this very difficult labor market.
Current New York City contracts have resulted in the essential human services workforce being some of the lowest paid workers in New York’s economy, some of whom end up living in homeless shelters and using the very social services they provide. Given the importance and difficulty of the work we perform, this is unconscionable. And what makes this even more unacceptable is the fact that the majority of the sector’s workers are women of color. The suppression of their wages reflects a long history of the devaluation of the work of women in general and women of color specifically.
To begin the long journey towards the goal of ending government-sanctioned poverty wages for human services workers (#JustPay campaign), we call on you to reinstate the 3% COLA before your administration ends to recognize the incredibly important work of this sector. The sector was critical during the pandemic and showed up day-in and day-out to provide life-saving services. You can honor that work and your legacy by funding the COLA. We are happy to meet with you or your representatives to discuss.