At local nonprofit Lifelong, my co-workers and I believe that our clients should get the best and most reliable services possible. We also believe that direct-service providers like us should receive a living wage that reflects the vital, life-affirming services we offer to the community. I am proud to announce that the staff and management at Lifelong have partnered together to implement a $15 per hour minimum wage immediately.
Fast food workers have long been the face of the $15 per hour movement, but countless nonprofit workers administering the city’s safety net services also struggle to live on less than $15 per hour. Under the current proposal from the Mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee, a smaller business or nonprofit like Lifelong, with fewer than 500 employees, would have five to seven years to raise base wages to $15 per hour. Giving smaller nonprofits a transition period to raise funds from government agencies, grant makers and donors in an effort to provide living wages to its employees is a necessary first step for smaller agencies. The Seattle City Council should act now to approve the $15 per hour proposal so that those who provide vital services to the community have an opportunity to see wage increases as soon as possible.
But at Lifelong there will be no wait. Over the last few months, union members at Lifelong have collaborated with the management team to bargain a new contract. Staff at Lifelong have been members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW for many years and we’ve built a collaborative relationship with administrators over time. In our recent negotiations, we made it clear that getting to $15 was a priority. Both sides of the table knew at some point in the future we would have to sit down together and struggle through the tough finances of making these wage increases, but there’s no better time than the present to do the right thing. Union members overwhelmingly approved our new living wage contract recently, bringing all staff to at least $15 per hour. We couldn’t be happier.
Paying $15 per hour means Lifelong will attract and retain motivated staff who provide vital services to people living with HIV/AIDS, a job that is as challenging as it is rewarding. We home-deliver meals, work with landlords to provide emergency, transitional and permanent housing, provide recovery support services and run HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs. These critical services call for stable, well-supported staff.
To meet these new wage commitments, Lifelong, like many organizations, will have to fundraise the additional money. However, knowing that our agency is committed to the provision of quality services as well as increasing compensation to the employees administering those services ultimately means that we will have a more dedicated, sustainable workforce.
Providing livable wages helps improve staff retention and morale. The increased retention means clients will get more stable services from more experienced staff. Turnover will decrease and clients can reliably form relationships of trust with staffers they know will be there for them.
Not all small nonprofits can implement a jump in wages immediately, which is why some phase-ins are needed. However, further delays could have damaging effects on retention of qualified staff. Nonprofit agencies in our city must work with elected officials and funders to strategize and develop the financial means to implement the $15 per hour wage policy ahead of the deadline. Lifelong is now demonstrating that giving livable wages to employees is not only possible but also in the best interests of workers and employers alike in the long run.
Many of Lifelong’s clients are part of Seattle’s low wage workforce. Like Lifelong staff, our clients also need at least $15 per hour to cover our region’s high cost of living. Economists estimate that the $15 per hour minimum wage plan will provide an additional $3 billion in spending money for 100,000 low wage Seattle workers in just the first 10 years. This huge economic boost is good for our business donors, who will thrive with more customers, as well as for our working clients who may need less financial assistance from us.
I’m proud that my Union chapter and the leadership team at Lifelong were able to successfully bargain for an in-house $15 per /hour minimum wage policy, effective immediately. Now, we need to pass the Mayor’s $15 per hour proposal to help other service providers attract and retain enthusiastic, motivated workers who can provide the best possible services to their clients. As an organization that emphasizes social justice as a key aspect of individual health and wellness, it only makes sense for Lifelong to be in the vanguard of this movement for economic justice.