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Council, members testify in support of fair pay

The Providers’ Council and two members testified before the state Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities on Tuesday, Oct. 10 in support of legislation to bring nonprofit human services employees’ salaries in line with those of state workers who do similar jobs.

Council President and CEO Michael Weekes was joined by JoAnne Wahl, Director of Residential Services at Northeast Arc, and Mark Shueppert, General Counsel and Vice President of Human Resources for Justice Resource Institute (JRI), to testify on House Bill 3150 and Senate Bill 47, An act relative to fair pay for comparable work.

In his testimony, Weekes cited salary data from the Providers’ Council’s report, Who Will Care? The Workforce Crisis in Human Services, that was released earlier this year. He said one example from the findings is that in a job posting for a social worker employed by the Department of Children and Families lists the salary as $51,000 to $69,800 annually, while a salary for an employee of a human services provider earns $14.50/hour, or about $35,800.

“We’re asking for two things,” he said. “One, close the disparity. We recommend a phase-in approach after a study is done; and two, two reports: the first to really, really take a look at what is the issue and the second to include recommendations to help us with recruiting and retaining human services workers.”

Wahl told the panel, which included House Chair Kay Khan, Rep. Carolyn Dykema, Rep. Shauna O’Connell and House Vice Chair Aaron Vega, that Northeast Arc’s vacancy rate is currently at about 20 percent and its annual turnover rate is 25 percent, largely due to low salaries in the sector.

JRI, which is regularly named a Boston Globe Best Place to Work, has “lost dozens of its staff to state positions,” according to Shueppert.

“This turnover results in significant costs for us,” he said. “The cost of hiring and training a new employee equals about four months’ pay. There is also a big negative impact on clients; social workers, direct care staff, nurses – they all establish relationships with clients.”

Weekes and Wahl both stated that the biggest issue is at the direct care level, with Wahl noting that many employees come into the agency at the ground level and advance to supervisory and even management roles.

“We know there’s a growing need for services in Massachusetts, but we won’t be able to address that need,” Weekes said. “We have to be able to recruit and retain the people who will care for us and our loved ones.”