NYAPRS Note: Although there is popular enthusiasm for Gov. Cuomo’s proposed $15/hour minimum wage hike, nonprofit agencies are scrambling wondering how they are going to make up the difference for the more than half a million nonprofit workers statewide who are currently at or near the minimum wage of $9/hour. Unless the Governor and Legislature commit the funds necessary to support competitive employment in the nonprofit sector, the workforce that serves our community will suffer. NYAPRS, along with our advocacy partners, have voiced this concern with the Governor’s office, and will continue to work diligently on this issue as part of our FY2016-17 advocacy agenda.
The Not-for-Profit Sector and the Minimum Wage
By Greg Soehner and Christina Gullo Democrat & Chronicle January 15, 2016
The $15 minimum wage movement has stimulated discussion as well as action, with plans to increase minimum wages for a variety of state workers. In Rochester, this has been joined by the mayor, who is increasing the minimum wage for city employees to $15, to be phased in by 2021.
Significant sectors left out of increases are those employed by not-for-profit organizations, representing over 500,000 people statewide who are at or near the minimum wage. The Council of Agency Executives includes 140 area nonprofits that collectively employ more than 20,000 people, many of whom work for wages at or near the current minimum wage of $9/hour.
Many local service organizations depend largely on city, county, state, federal and Medicaid service contracts to operate. Generally speaking, these contracts and rates do not increase on a predictable cycle, nor are they tied to any annual COLAs, thus the wages of their employees suffer accordingly.
In the nonprofit sector we do not have the ability to raise prices on our products, nor pass on the expense to our customers; all we can do is make cuts. Nonprofit sector pay is generally below private sector rates. As wages increase in other sectors, nonprofit wages fall further behind. Inevitably, it becomes more difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff to provide valuable services to a population that often has complex needs.
COAE organizations provide services to people across all ages and tend to a variety of needs. If and when we approach a wage environment that pays fast food workers more than college educated counselors and case managers, this safety net of services will be greatly weakened, and in some areas may collapse entirely.
How then to proceed?
Unless the governor and legislature commit the funds required to allow nonprofits to pay competitive wages, the public and community obligations to serve those most in need — which has in large part been contracted out to nonprofits — will not be met.
We are on a precipice. And unless the nonprofit sector is included in initiatives to pay a living wage, the impact on our clients and community — often those with the least, will suffer the most.
Greg Soehner is president of the Council of Agency Executives. Christina Gullo is chair of the COAE Community Relations committee.