Hiking the Minimum Wage (and Living To Tell About It)


photo by Michael Fleshman

photo by Michael Fleshman

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This month’s post is written by a staff member at a local DV/SA agency who wishes to remain anonymous.

My goal in writing is to urge us to critically think about how our efforts at promoting social and economic justice can have unintended consequences.  The State of Washington is considering a minimum wage hike, as are a few individual cities. I’ll get to more on this in a moment, but here’s my story.

I work at a domestic violence and sexual assault agency that is part of a much larger, diverse organization populated by programs with unequal funding sources and different requirements for service provision. My program in particular is struggling financially due to the loss of DV/SA grant funding. When planning this year’s budget with my finance director, we based the final budget not only on the funding realities we faced but also with the knowledge that the entire organization was facing a major increase in health insurance benefit costs.

On top of increased health insurance costs and loss of funding, my agency implemented both a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) and a step increase. We learned in late December (and of course after we had established our budget) that those increases would go into effect January 1, 2014. Because we are all on the same salary structure, my program could not elect to exempt our staff from this salary increase. And unlike for-profit businesses that can pass rising costs onto their consumers by increasing the price of their products, we do not charge for our services by law, by design, and by principle.

For us, this meant that we needed to decrease our costs immediately. But how? The vast majority of our budget goes to salaries and benefits. All of our services require people: providing shelter and legal advocacy services, , assisting survivors with transportation and childcare, , providing advocacy-based counseling, coordinating systems on their behalf, and documenting it all. We had already trimmed our operating costs to the bare minimum by reducing our office space and eliminating any extraneous expenses. When there were no other costs to cut, only salaries and benefits were left.

I considered three options. First, I could require every staff member to take 18 furlough days per year. Second, I could lay off a single full-time person. Last, I could move the full-time staff to part-time at 38 hours per week. The cost of these lost hours closely mirrored their pay increase, which meant their take-home pay would stay the same (and cost them much less than 18 furlough days). We would also only lose fourteen hours per week of staff time rather than forty. However, three of our staff would lose paid health insurance benefits for their families. After considering all the angles, it seemed like there was only one practical option: to reduce full-time staff’s hours to 38 per week.. And so it went.

I lost a lot of sleep over this.

It is difficult to devote your life to promoting social justice and then find yourself doing something you never imagined – and to people about whom you care. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, but it was our reality. And our reality can change when we work to build a better future. I need to work with my organization and my community to find ways to do just that.

Before December I would have been completely on board with the minimum wage hike proposals. However, the effect of a sudden increase in costs on our program gives me pause.

My concern is about whether or not the act of increasing the minimum wage will by itself truly move us toward social and economic justice. If human service organizations have no immediate way to make up for their increased costs except by decreasing staff – and thereby their level of service provision – then what will have been accomplished? Human services are desperately needed by the people we serve. So what can we do? Ideas I have considered are as follows:

  • Allow non-profit and human service organizations to implement minimum wage increases over time.
  • Continually support legislation and policies that address bloated healthcare costs and inefficiencies in our health care and health insurance systems.
  • Encourage the government to commit to funding us like they do other federal programs. I consider DV/SA and other human service programs to be a hybrid of FEMA and the CDC. Like FEMA we address social hurricanes and tornadoes, and defunding us would be like defunding FEMA. AND we are like the CDC, working to promote public health by addressing DV/SA/other social problems not only a case at a time but with our prevention programs. Our work is vital to our communities.

That may not be much, but it’s a start. What do you think? How are you handling similar situations?


Making Meaning Through Movement

Kornfields-Spirit-Rock-Marin-CA-SF-Examiner[1]I just returned from my 4-week silent meditation retreat–a transformational experience.

One of the things I experienced while on retreat was lots of free-time, during which I practiced the tai-ji moves (Forward Stance) that we have been taught in Just Futures over the past two years.

Every day, I’d go through the moves over and over again.  At first, I had a hard time remembering them and it took a lot of concentration and scouring my brain to put the moves together.  But the more I did it, the more I developed a body memory.  The less thinking I had to do, the more I had the direct experience of the moves – and their deepening meaning.

I am sad that I had not learned, before my retreat, the very last move (dragon’s tail – ultimate change).  So I only got through Rain on Beijing.

I was also nervous that I was practicing moves incorrectly, or in the wrong order and that I’d have to “unlearn” them so I could do them right later on.  But honestly, I did not let any of this stop me from practicing. 

One of the Buddhist practices I engaged in, for the first time, on this retreat was chanting.  Every evening, all the students would follow the lead of a teacher who taught us the Metta Sutta (Buddha’s teaching on loving kindness) in Pali – the language the Buddha spoke.  I chanted from a sheet and never was very proficient.  But the thing I loved about the chanting was realizing that there are people chanting this all over the world pretty much continuously – there are no doubt people chanting it right now!  And this has been true for roughly the past 2,000 years.  Now that’s movement building.  

How this relates to the tai ji – I was thinking about so many activists getting involved and learning the practice, that we could imagine being accompanied by people all over the state every time we got up to go through the moves.      

Please pick up your practice and don’t let your doubts or worries stop you.  Make your own meaning of the moves and be prepared for transformation.

Self Care

Good Jobs logo for printSelf-care. It’s a term that has been tossed around a lot in the 13 years I’ve been working in the DV movement, and I’m sure for the decades previous as well. We’ve talked about it with the survivors we worked with, and we’ve encouraged each other to practice it. But what does it mean?  When we talk about self-care today, we have moved beyond the idea that chocolate and bubble baths will rejuvenate us. In this line of work strong and brave advocates take in traumatic story after story. Those leading our organizations make one tough decision after another about funding (or lack thereof) and program structure—decisions that can be hard news to deliver to those strong and brave advocates and staff. We must continue the dialogue about self-care. Incorporating real and helpful support for staff (and those of you in leadership too!) sustains good jobs and strong organizations.

Recently, Sarah Foley from the YWCA in Spokane wrote a guest post here about a supervision survey she conducted with advocates and supervisors from DV organizations around Washington State. She asked a few questions about self-care. When advocates were asked if they engaged in self-care or had a self-care plan, most (87%) said yes. All participating supervisors reported that it was important to support advocates’ self-care. Most (89%) reported that it is ‘very important’ and the other 11% reported it was ‘somewhat important’ to support advocates’ self-care and sustainability in the work.

Advocate and Supervisor Perception of Supervisor’s Support of Self-Care

self-care graph 1

Advocate and Supervisor Responses on the Frequency of Asking about Self-Care during Supervision

self-care graph 2

As you can see from the second graph above, there are some discrepancies in how advocates and supervisors perceive how self-care is being addressed. What kinds of things are you doing to address vicarious trauma and promote self-care at your organization? Our sisters at the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs have some suggestions. Are you talking about this in new employee orientation? Have a system for addressing it during regular supervision sessions? Let us know what you’re doing and what you think is working well!

And one last thing…I spoke with a leader at a DV organization recently who, like in the example above, has had to make some tough decisions in the past year. At every level of our organizations, we have great people doing hard work that can sometimes feel thankless. So I want to say Thank You. Here’s a little late Valentine from another nonprofit blogger. I think he puts it beautifully. You are a unicorn!

Our Business

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So, this post has been making it’s way around my Facebook circle, so I read it. It’s an open letter by an executive director of a small non profit to his friends in the business community. I think he makes some very interesting points. Take a moment to read it.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.


OK, so, what did you think? What about it resonated for you? What didn’t? Maybe there are some points here that you could incorporate into your next conversation with donors or your Board. Tell us what you think!

Creating Time for Supervision

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This week’s post brought to you by guest blogger Sarah Foley, Associate Director of Counseling and Outreach at the YWCA Alternatives to Domestic Violence Program in Spokane, WA.   

There is never enough time in the day to complete all the work that needs to be done, including providing supervision to advocates and staff. Many times crisis and conflicting meetings result in supervision getting rescheduled or canceled. Recently, I in partnership with WSCADV administered a survey on supervision to a representative group of WSCADV’s Member Programs. Many supervisors and advocates said that supervision was scheduled weekly, but 56% of respondents on the advocate survey and 47% on the supervisor survey claimed that it did not happen with consistency and predictability. So, how can priority be given to supervision?

Sarah graph 1 Sarah graph 2

Some organizations and supervisors may be able to provide weekly supervision (awesome!), but for most organizations that may not be a reality.  A scheduled weekly meeting for supervision is setting unrealistic expectations for many staff and supervisors. But I’ve got great news! Many advocates and staff are not looking for weekly supervision.  Here is a comparison of supervisors’ and advocates’ ideal supervision:

Sarah graph 3

Creating scheduled supervision biweekly or monthly can benefit both staff and supervisors.  Having meetings scheduled less frequently can help prioritize supervision; it can lend more importance to the meetings when they are scheduled.  While having fewer scheduled meetings with advocates and staff can be concerning if the ideal is weekly supervision, 60% of advocates report being very satisfied with the availability of their supervisor outside of scheduled supervision.

Sarah graph 4

Results from this survey suggest that it is important for supervisors to be flexible and realistic about supervision.  Scheduling fewer meetings but holding those times consistent could free up time on the calendar and provide the supervision that advocates need. What do you think? How are you making supervision work at your agency?

To be and build beloved communities – for what?

We are having a fun debate in Just Futures about our goal.

Is the goal of the Just Futures project ….

To be and build beloved communities that deeply value all women and girls to the last girl.

? or ….

To be and build beloved communities wherein all women and girls can exercise life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to the last girl.

? or ….

Option C, D, E and so on until we have something that has a resounding ring to it.

What do you think?  What is our goal?

How do we fashion simply complex words.  Words we can practice and memorize so they come from our collective voice and into the ears of listeners who smile and nod.

Tending to the Nest Egg

Good Jobs logo for printAhhhh, retirement. Visions of schedule-free days, travel with loved ones, working through your bucket list that you’ve carefully crafted over the years.

by incanus

by incanus

Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately, it’s a word that can strike fear into the hearts of many working in this field.


Colbert screaming gif


And for good reason. Many of us are terrified that we won’t have enough to retire when we want to, or even enough to live comfortably when we can’t work anymore. So what about those days of carefree gardening and travel? How can we help make that (or whatever’s on your list) a reality for the folks who work at our programs? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some information that can help us think about it.

In the 2011 Wages and Benefits survey we asked employees of DV programs “Are you saving for retirement?” Here’s what folks who took the survey had to say to that.

programs offering retirement benefit graph

Are you saving for retirement graph

Among those who said they are saving for retirement, 64% said that they utilize the plan offered by their employer. Here’s a breakdown in a little more detail:

How are you saving for retirement graph

So some are saving (a little over half) and some are not. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t save—like they don’t have enough left over at after making ends meet, they don’t think they need to (I’m so young and carefree!), they don’t know how or even where to start. As an employer, you cannot necessarily address all the reasons why people aren’t saving, but what can you do? Figuring out how to offer a retirement plan is a great start, but even then, some employees won’t take advantage of it. What then? What have you done about this at your agency, if you offer retirement plans? (Here’s a suggestion that you might have seen before, hint, hint).

There’s not easy answer to these questions, nor The Big One—How on earth am I supposed to manage and make a retirement plan option worthwhile for my employees? Where’s that time and money going to come from? Good question. Who’s doing it? How’s that going? We’d love to hear from you!