By MIKE LEE
District Council 37 has joined with the Just Pay campaign to end the exploitation of private sector human services workers under contract with New York City and the state.
Our union represents more than 17,000 workers in the non-profit private sector, and we demand that they be paid fair wages for their labor. These hardworking workers who provide needed services from home care to group homes have, for decades, been paid poverty-level wages and are falling further behind financially due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These workers suffered greatly while performing their jobs during the lockdown. In addition, their health was constantly in jeopardy while taking public transportation to and from their jobs, caring for at-risk clients, while exposed to COVID-19. Yet, through it all, essential workers performed their tasks professionally by providing the necessary services their clients deserved and demanded.
Still, these workers have borne the brunt of not just the pandemic but also the insistence of government leaders to balance their budgets on the backs of these workers, adding to the stark inequity between wealthier communities and the low-income and Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities where these workers live and raise their families.
The practice of keeping their wages low in comparison to those public sector workers paid by city agencies must end. This has reached a level of a crisis that must be addressed immediately.
Up until now, this workforce has been among some of the lowest paid in New York. Two-thirds are women, and 68% are people of color. Nearly 25% of all human services workers qualified for food stamps in 2016-2018. The low wages they earn have had a sweeping effect on workplace conditions, causing high staff turnovers and jobs that impact program outcomes because the remaining workers have to endure heavy, unsustainable workloads.
The length of contracts is often a factor. Long-term contracts (some for five to seven years) create a built-in stagnation of wages that offer these essential human services workers little opportunity to build a career necessary to develop a healthy, functioning workplace.
We call on our public officials in New York City and the legislature in Albany to adopt needed reforms this year. Currently, there is parity legislation in Albany for home care workers employed at private agencies, but more must be done for all frontline health care workers in the for-profit private sector.
- To enforce an automatic annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) on all human services contracts;
- Set a living wage floor of no less than $20 an hour for all City- and State-funded human services workers.
- Create, fund, and incorporate a comprehensive wage and benefits schedule for government-contracted human services workers comparable to the salaries of City and State employees in the same field.
Reforming non-profit contracts for our essential human services workers who are paid fair wages is central to COVID-19 recovery. Following these demands will help the communities most impacted by the pandemic secure higher quality services for the clients who need them and help the City and state better prepare for possible future crises.
On Thursday, March 10, DC 37 and #Just Pay will join a coalition of unions, community leaders, and elected officials to rally in support of our private sector human services workers in their fight for a $20-an-hour living wage. The rally will be held at City Hall Park at Park Row from 11 a.m. to noon. RSVP: here. #JUSTPAY