As workers gain wage levers, nonprofits cannot keep up

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Such was the shortage of staff at Maryhurst, which serves neglected and abused children that the board recently agreed to raise wages for front-line workers by up to 28 percent in some cases. But the organization did not receive a permanent increase in government funding to pay for those increases, which means it will have to cut costs elsewhere or raise additional money from private donors.

Both approaches are not sustainable, said Jorrisch. And the company still has a vacancy rate of around 30 percent – just this month, Maryhurst lost one of her longest-serving supervisors to a job at the Kroger supermarket chain.

Many public sector employers face similar problems. Billions of dollars in federal aid to state and local governments during the pandemic have helped prevent the budget crises initially feared by some experts. However, many local officials are cautious about offering permanent wage increases based on short-term federal aid.

“It is very dangerous for us to use one-off funding to set a precedent to raise salaries unless it is clear that funding will continue,” said John Malloy, superintendent of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. east of Oakland, California.

Mr Malloy says his district has an unusually high number of vacant apprenticeships. But, as in many school districts, the bigger challenge lies outside the classroom, where they compete more directly with rapidly rising wages in the private sector. School bus drivers can earn significantly more with deliveries for Amazon. Canteen workers and caretakers can earn better with similar work in for-profit companies. That fall, Mr. Malloy resorted to asking headquarters staff, including himself, to take on lunch shifts to supervise the students.

Wages are not the only challenge. School principals say after nearly two years of distance and hybrid learning, battles for mask and vaccine mandates, and other issues, they are also battling burnout. And schools cannot offer remote work or flexible hours to compensate for lower wages.

Similar problems face nonprofits, especially those involved in child welfare, mental health, and other direct services. The demand for many services has skyrocketed during the pandemic and is a burden on the already thin staff. Women are also disproportionately employed in education and human resources, who bore the brunt of the childcare crisis during the pandemic.


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