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Nonprofit human services workers push for parity


Nonprofit organizations and elected officials rallied in Albany Monday to push for legislation that would enact a higher cost-of-living adjustment for human services workers and also establish a wage board to address pay disparities between the nonprofit and public sectors.

The Human Services Council, University Settlement, Catholic Charities and other members of the #JustPay campaign joined the rally to push for higher wages for nonprofit human services workers. Many of the 800,000 workers helping homeless and low-income New Yorkers themselves live in poverty or close to it: About one in five human-services workers received food stamps in 2021, according to the Human Services Council.

Across the state, about two-thirds of human services sector workers are women and 57 percent are women of color, according to the campaign.

The advocates argued that nonprofits are often underfunded by the state, contributing to the low wages. Governor Kathy Hochul last year instituted a 4-percent cost-of-living adjustment for workers in designated human services programs, but this year, just a 1.5-percent COLA has been proposed. The advocates are calling for a 3.2-percent COLA for workers in an even wider range of programs.

“Nonprofit workers are united, organized, and ready to make their voices heard this budget season," said Michelle Jackson, the Human Services Council’s executive director. “Coalitions across the state — groups serving people with developmental disabilities, mental health professionals, homeless service providers, aging services, and more — are all pushing for a Cost of Living Adjustment because they want to put workers first.”

Brooklyn State Senator Roxanne Persaud, who chairs the Senate’s Social Services Committee, explained that her bill would provide COLAs for workers at about 20 additional programs.

“While the entire human services sector works to uplift New Yorkers in need, COLAs have long been selectively applied — thus excluding many worthy groups of workers, some of whom perform the same work as those historically eligible for the COLA,” she said.

30% less than in public sector 

Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos, who chairs the Labor Committee, argued that the state “should not be subsidizing poverty wages.” 

“Human service workers … need a wage floor and an annual cost of living increase. Passing this in the budget will address a workforce crisis and instill some predictability for worker and human services providers alike,” she said.

Advocates also pointed out that nonprofit human services workers face a pay disparity compared to their counterparts working in state and local government: nonprofit employees earned nearly 30 percent less than government workers doing similar jobs with the same level of education, according to the legislators. They also earned about 18 percent less than workers in similar roles in the private sector.

One of the proposed bills would create a 12-person human services employee wage board to recommend minimum wages for workers in the field. 

“Our nonprofit human service providers represent a substantial portion of the human services workforce but are subject to significantly less pay than public sector workers in the same fields. This is creating a workforce crisis that is affecting the services families throughout New York State rely upon,” said Assemblymember Harry Bronson, the bill’s sponsor and the chair of the Assembly’s Labor Committee.

Pascale Leone, the executive director of Supportive Housing Network of New York, called on the state to “care for our caregivers.”

“We are failing our social service workforce, which is indefensible. It is far past time to make the investments necessary to support them and address the chronic labor shortage that is undercutting our ability to fulfill our mission-driven work,” she said.


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