Nonprofit workers in New York City took their grievances to City Hall last week, calling for fair wages and benefits.

Earlier this month, over one thousand workers (including employees at food pantries, foster care agencies and domestic violence shelters) rallied in lower Manhattan making the next push in their “Just Pay” campaign to serve nonprofit workers the way they believe to be served.

“We need to ensure our human service workers are at the forefront of all of our conversations about worker justice,” stated Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa, chair of the Committee on Labor. “Our human service professionals are the backbone of our afterschool programs, city agencies, community-based organizations, and our schools. They deserve a living wage, a true cost of living adjustment, and a comprehensive wage and benefit schedule.”

According to the group, 8 out of 10 human service workers in the five boroughs are people of color and 60% of them qualify for one form of government assistance if not multiple.

“New Yorkers depend on the tireless efforts of human services workers each day, and it is time for the city to pay these workers what they’re worth,” Michelle Jackson, executive director of the Human Services Council, stated. “If the City Council and Mayor Adams truly value their work, they must dedicate resources to ensure these New Yorkers can afford to live in the communities they serve. Human services workers have been essential during the pandemic and they will remain so as our city strives to recover from the ongoing economic, medical and social impacts of COVID-19.”

According to a recent report by the Center for New York City Affairs (CNYCA) at The New School, the human services sector is one of the lowest average paying large industries in the city. The average pay for these workers equals that of laundry and restaurant workers and less than stores, hotels and office clerks.

“Rather than fund services based on an analysis of the actual cost of providing high-quality services and fairly compensating a well-educated workforce, the city contracting process generally functions to reimburse contracted services at the lowest price possible,” read the study put together by James Parott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the CNYCA, and L.K. Moe, assistant director for economic policy of the COVID-19 Economic Recovery. “This system has forced nonprofits to operate at extremely slim margins and reduces the possibility of human service workers earning wages and benefits that are at parity with comparable positions in either the public or the private sector outside of the city-contracted human services sphere.”

All of it is unreasonable and objectionable to some elected officials.

“It is unacceptable that essential service workers receive completely inadequate pay, benefits, and advancement opportunities in their professions,” said Councilmember Althea Stevens, chair of the Committee on Youth Services. “As they’ve continuously worked to keep our city going before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic they deserve equity. The momentum of New York City’s recovery endeavors continues, and we must stand with the women and people of color in underserved communities as they are being affected by this the most. We migrate from contracts that have provided no benefit to these essential services workers, and provide everyone with equal opportunities for advancement and the compensation that is deserved.”

“That recovery cannot happen without fair wages for the women and BIPOC community who are the overwhelming majority of NYC human services’ workforce,” added Councilmember Amanda Farias, co-chair of the Women’s Caucus. “Our human service workers, who have been heavily relied upon since the start of the pandemic, are some of the lowest paid workers in New York’s economy. The average human services worker makes only $32,700 a year, far below what the standard requirements are to meet the basic expenses of living a self-sufficient sustainable life in New York City.

“We must honor our essential workers’ need for sustainable compensation with the same energy we gave them everyday at 7 p.m. through the height of the stay-at-home order.”

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