Are Your Grantees Keeping Workers in Poverty?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
by Michael Hamill Remaley, SVP, Public Policy & Communications
This piece was originally published as the feature article for the October 2014 issue of the New York PhilanthroPost Policy Edition.
It is a fact that nonprofits are among the employers in New York, and across the nation, that most commonly pay their employees less than self-sustaining wages. Paying a “living wage” should be a no-brainer for organizations that are existentially defined by their commitment to improve social conditions in some way. But there are several major factors that impel nonprofits with the best intentions to pay their workers less than living wages.
Government contracting systems are the main culprit, but the philanthropic sector also plays a role. Is it possible your organization is contributing to the problem? Is it doing all that it can to influence the many factors contributing to this problem?
Last month, Philanthropy New York and The New York Community Trust co-hosted a funder briefing in which the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies outlined an initiative they are launching to compel New York City and State government agencies to pay living wages to human service workers.  It was a well-attended and highly informative session.  But like all great discussions, it raised as many questions as it answered.  
Should we be working to ensure living wages across all sectors, not just human service organizations? 
What would be the impact on local governments and tax rates if all employees received living wages? 
Could increasing wages lead to decreases in service provision?  
Would increasing wages lead to decreased need for services?  
Do private funders that give mostly project support rather than general operating grants exacerbate the problem? 
Could adequate government contracts decrease the need to seek philanthropic support to fill the gaps? 
Would philanthropic advocacy on this issue help the living wage issue gain traction in New York? 
These questions will get a thorough examination – and debate – on November 5 in the Philanthropy New York program “Should Nonprofits Be Mandated to Pay Living Wages, and What Is Philanthropy’s Role?”  
Nonprofits should pay living wages. There is little disagreement about that. But there are major questions about what taxpayers are willing to support and how government and philanthropy should proceed.  Providing a strong dose of reality about the financial implications, Carol Kellerman, President of the Citizens Budget Commission and Allison Sesso, Executive Director of the Human Services Council of New York will be joined by the returning Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO/Executive Director of FPWA and James Parrott, Deputy Director and Chief Economist of the FPI.  
A broad movement advocating for living wages for all workers is New York City is brewing.  This conversation will be an important one for all funders who want to understand the complexities and the challenges ahead for our sector and for all of our grantees. 


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