The Right to Adequate or Comfortable Compensation

Posted on May 25, 2018

The Right to Adequate or Comfortable Compensation

From the moment it went live, last week’s post generated great comments both on the post and people reaching out to me personally. As a result, you all pushed me to think deeper about the subject of what I’m going to call adequate and comfortable compensation. I use this term due to my belief that if you do the challenging work of helping others, you should receive more than just a livable wage which, in most geographic areas, means you must always worry about money and live paycheck to paycheck. Instead, I advocate for an adequate and comfortable salary that allows us to live comfortably in the communities we serve. We do not do this work to become rich, but we should not constantly worry about money either!

Last week I asked why teachers are walking out to protest education funding and salaries while other helping professions are not taking similar action as most of us do not make an equivalent salary to teachers. In several states, tens of thousands of educators walked out to force legislators to address their state policy-makers devaluing education and educators. As a result, schools in these states were forced to shut down inconveniencing many parents and causing disruptions that rippled throughout communities.

So, why aren’t residential child welfare staff, criminal justice workers, psychiatric hospital workers, those working in homeless shelters, foster parents, etc., doing the same? Let’s acknowledge the logical reasons:

  1. Safety, people would likely get hurt and die if some of us didn’t show up for work in mass.
  2. Our organizations pay us based on larger funding realities. Walking out would hurt our organizations and put our employers in tough
  3. We are not organized. Teachers are a defined group with union representation on multiple (district, state, and national) levels. Helpers encompass a vast range of job duties, people served, and educational backgrounds. We are not a monolithic group much less an organized one.
  4. People don’t care about those we serve like they love their own For many, it is easier to support an effort to adequately fund their kid’s school than to understand and work through stigma and misinformation about homelessness, addiction, mental illness, trauma, criminal behavior, and the like.

The pathetic state of pay needs addressed, so we must overcome these barriers. So, let’s discuss them one by one.

People will die. Here is what the Governor of Kentucky said about teacher walkouts, “Children were harmed — some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time — because they were vulnerable and left alone.” Who is at fault for putting kids at risk? Is it the underpaid teachers working in underfunded schools or the policy-makers who created this reality? The question I struggle with (I acknowledge this is a tough issue) is whether we do more harm by not protesting the status quo and allowing it to continue versus the risk of harm done through an act of civil disobedience?

Damage to our organizations. When my wife walked out with her fellow teachers she was not protesting her school or districts actions (she is happy with the steps they have taken). She was opposing our states shameful approach to school funding and supporting teachers in less supportive communities and districts. Some organizations could probably manage for a day (it would be good from some leaders to work an overnight shift and some board members to get some hands-on experience), others might shut down for a shift or day, all would hopefully start actively advocating for an increase in funding and salaries if not already.

Most of us are not unionized/organized. Unions played a role in the recent walkouts, but (at least in Colorado) it was more a grassroots’ organizing effort by teachers. Many of our organizations belong to local or national advocacy groups, where is pay on their advocacy priorities? Before taking an extreme action like walking out, we should all discuss how to use our members in these groups to address the state of pay in the helping professions.

Stigma and lack of community support. Like this issue is a new one! Maybe the people who don’t show a ton of empathy for those we serve would feel some empathy if they knew how little we get paid. Any action would bring attention to the broken systems in which most of us work and that would probably do some good.

I will admit that a walkout has its drawbacks, but we need action! What are your thoughts? Do you feel walkouts would work? Do you have a better idea for collective action? The issue of pay is too important not to address!

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