Nonprofit workers say: If you want to solve San Francisco’s biggest problems, pay frontline workers a living wage
Workers at city-funded nonprofits say the city’s efforts to tackle the crises of drug addiction, housing insecurity and mental health are hamstrung by short-staffing and turnover caused by low pay
On May 15, 2023, frontline SEIU 1021members employed by nonprofits funded by the City and County of San Francisco rallied on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to call on city leaders to fund cost of living adjustments (COLAs).
The workers say poverty wages are causing excessive turnover and recruitment problems in programs dedicated to addressing the city’s problems with drug addiction, untreated mental health disorders, and homelessness.
“We are in crisis in San Francisco,” said Kristin Hardy, the vice president of the San Francisco region for SEIU 1021. “Our union members work in dozens of city-funded programs delivering vital services, including substance abuse prevention, outpatient drug treatment, and mental health counseling. Many are complex gender-specific, culturally-sensitive, and in-language service programs. Across the board, workers are ringing the alarm bell that they are short-staffed and struggling with caseloads.”
“We are stretched thin and stressed out,” said Mia Robinson, an SEIU 1021 member working as a desk clerk for HomeRise. “It makes no sense that the workers responsible for lifting San Franciscans out of poverty are paid poverty wages. In the world’s third-richest metropolitan area, we cannot retain the workforce we need to solve our biggest problems. Frontline workers cannot help people escape encampments, break out of addiction and prevent seniors and disabled people from sliding into homelessness if we can’t afford to live here.”
Theresa Rutherford, the president of SEIU 1021, said, “Short staffing exists in City and County-funded nonprofits, which do much of the work ensuring San Francisco’s most vulnerable are housed, finding drug treatment, and securing timely and adequate mental health care services. And why is this? It’s because many of the frontline workers we need most to take on San Francisco’s most challenging problems are stretched thin and stressed out. That’s because the frontline workers responsible for lifting San Franciscans out of poverty are expected to work for poverty wages. To make San Francisco a living city, we need to pay our frontline non-profit workers a living wage. We want to thank all our allies on the board of supervisors and in the mayor’s office for working with us to invest in the programs and services that our non-profit workers provide.”
“If we’re serious about cleaning up this city, revitalizing our Downtown, and reducing crime, homelessness, and addiction, we need to retain and attract committed frontline workers,” declared Supervisor Matt Dorsey. “Our drug treatment, mental health, and housing programs aren’t effective when they can’t retain qualified employees. We need to provide a COLA for city-funded nonprofits.”
Raising the poverty wages for frontline nonprofit workers employed by the City and County of San Francisco will address the issues of recruitment and retention of trained professionals specializing in the services nonprofits provide San Franciscans.