Several essential labor groups gathered in Albany last week to demand fair and equitable wages throughout the state. They were supported by the Human Services Council (HSC) and the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, & Asian (BPHA) Legislative Caucus.
Nonprofits and essential services—such as childcare centers, senior centers, and mental health providers—fall under the umbrella of human service workers. Data indicates that they are the “lowest-paid workers” in New York City, despite the importance of their services during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing migrant crisis.
The workforce is also overwhelmingly made up of people of color and women.
Labor groups and elected officials are pushing for the passage of Bills S. 4675 and A.3329, which would convene an independent body to investigate these pay disparities between government, private sector, and contracted human services workers.
“We want to ensure that Black and brown folk in New York State are being provided with wages that are acceptable to the work that they are doing,” said BPHA Caucus Chair and Assemblymember Michaelle C. Solages. “When we look at human service workers, these are predominantly people of color and predominantly women. They are doing the essential work and providing services to the people that need uplifting, and some of them are living in poverty themselves.”
Advocates are also asking for all city and state workers to have an increase and that the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) be increased to 8.5% as outlined in their People’s Budget.
“That’s great that we’ve had a starting point, but we need more. It’s not enough,” said Solages. “In NYS, you can’t live on $30,000. That’s living in poverty.”
Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed $221.6 billion executive budget for fiscal year 2024 has a more than $4 billion investment to support wages and bonuses for healthcare workers, and a $500 million for COLA to help raise wages for human services workers, representing a 2.5% COLA increase.
Human Services Council of New York Executive Director Michelle Jackson explained that wage increases are absolutely a systemic issue. She said that nonprofit work has been viewed as “women’s work” or “volunteer work” in the past, therefore not requiring high payouts. This perception was challenged during the pandemic when the city relied heavily on workers to carry the city and state.
“Overall, people from all walks of life require human services,” said Jackson. “I think it’s really undervalued work.”
Contracting for human services work oftentimes happens off-budget, but funding for these services is in the executive budget, said Jackson. The contracting lasts for several years at a time and is supposed to account for changes in the COLA during that time. The state’s wage gap is a result of the previous administration not keeping up, said Jackson.
“Governor Cuomo, in particular, did not provide the statutory increase in the budget each year, so now, providers are 12 years behind in being able to keep up with wages,” said Jackson. “Nonprofits have tried to fill that gap, but they do that at the expense of their programs.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.