By Randy Shaw.

The agreement for a San Francisco minimum wage hike is great news for fast food and other very low paid workers. But many city-funded nonprofit workers also need a raise. They already earn more than the local minimum, yet are still struggling to get by in an increasingly expensive San Francisco and nearby Bay Area.

The mayor’s propose 1.5% raise for nonprofit workers does little to keep them afloat. This amount is less than the 2.25-2-8% pay hikes already awarded to most city workers, and represents much lower raises in actual dollars. City workers also have pensions and health care benefits that few city-funded nonprofit workers enjoy.

With each passing year, the compensation disparity grows between two groups of workers often performing very similar jobs for the city. If anyone needed to study the the financial consequences for workers  of a city contracting out much of its homeless, AIDS, mental health, and substance abuse services to nonprofits, San Francisco is a troubling test case.

Nonprofit Myths

Some argue nonprofit workers deserve less because they are “not in it for the money.” They believe that if such workers wanted more money, they should leave for the for-profit sector.

But there is little or no “for-profit” sector in the type of vital homeless, health and other services that nonprofits often uniquely provide. And while employment opportunities outside the nonprofit world obviously exist, this does not justify a city like San Francisco creating a parallel low-wage workforce to perform functions for which city workers. are fairly compensated.

Some city officials believe nonprofits should do fundraising to make up funding shortfalls. These are people who have never tried getting foundation or private donations to fund a desk clerk, case manager or other ongoing services.

Nonprofit staff understand they are unlikely to match private sector salaries. All they want is a fair playing field. And when their proposed pay hikes are far lower than any other employment category connected to city services, they see this as wrong.

The Board of Supervisors may be surprised to learn that in a city that wants to be “family friendly,” my organization, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, is one of only a small handful of city-funded nonprofits that provides dependent health care coverage. And it becomes harder for us to do so because when rates go up, the Human Services Agency won’t pick up the increase.

The vast majority of city-funded nonprofits only fund health coverage for the employee alone. So when the city offers a paltry 1.5% pay hike for nonprofit workers, many are also on the hook for increased children’s health care costs.

Comparable Worth for Nonprofits

There has never been a public debate in San Francisco about the city not funding health care for dependents on city-funded nonprofit employees. I asked top leaders of SEIU Local 1021 to launch such a debate to no avail. I realize it is up to workers to push union staff on such issues, but years of low pay and no benefit increases have left many lower-paid nonprofit workers feeling resigned to their fate.

Health care for dependents of nonprofit employees, like overall salary levels, is off the political radar. I think the chief reason is that, unlike the ongoing debate over loopholes in Healthy SF that the Supervisors led by David Campos are finally closing, there is no corporate or private-sector villain who is denying health care to nonprofit dependents.

Instead, it’s a function of city policy. And addressing the unfairness of lack of city-funded nonprofit health care coverage would cost the city money successive Boards of Supervisors and Mayors have been unwilling to spend.

But that does not mean that San Francisco should not start trying to set things right. Back in the 1980’s the city used the budget process to implement comparable worth, a strategy to remedy the historic disparity whereby women’s jobs of similar skill and education were paid less than those primarily held by men.

Women couldn’t recapture all of their lower pay in a single year, but each budget cycle could address this historic unfairness. Comparable worth for women was broadly supported in San Francisco, and it provides a roadmap for how greater nonprofit equity can be achieved.

Supes Must Act

I don’t know if the mayor’s 1.5% increase was offered assuming Supervisors would increase it, but why should city funded nonprofit workers get smaller increases than those gained by city workers? Many are both represented by SEIU Local 1021, so we’re not comparing union to non-union. While one difference is that nonprofits lack a master contract, that does not impact how the Supes approach the nonprofit raises.

The chief obstacle to nonprofit wage increases in the past is that each 1% costs the city well over $1million. City officials don’t mind far high numbers when negotiating with firefighters or Muni drivers, but these labor deals are expected and tens of millions of dollars are set aside.

Nonprofit dollars, in contrast, usually come through the addback process. This is where competition for money is fierce, and Supes are pressured to prioritize programs over wage hikes.

I’m not clear whether there remains sufficient unallocated money for next year’s budget to begin reducing nonprofit worker economic inequality. But it is clear that giving nonprofit workers smaller raises than city workers and managers is unfair, and simply expands the inequality that our elected officials have pledged to narrow.

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Originally posted at Beyond Chron.