To the editor:
I was previously hired as a full-time adolescent outreach case manager at the Brien Center in Pittsfield. The wage for the position was $13.62 hourly. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a listed requirement for the position, and over five years of direct experience. I felt I was within reason to advocate for a higher wage (I was ideally looking for the $18 to $20 range, which I do not think is unrealistic) and was told during my interview that because it was a unionized position, they could not increase the wage.
I worked 37.5 hours every week which accumulates to a pay period of 75 hours — 75 hours at $13.62 is $1,021.50. Take out $110 each pay period for health insurance. So now I’m at $911.50. Take out $15 every pay period for the union fee. Now I’m at $886.50. Take out $197 in taxes. Now I’m only getting $689 each pay period. Just under $1,400 a month.
The average amount of student loan debt is $33,000. So that’s about a $333 a month in student loan payments. Housing can cost easily upwards of $600 a month in rent. Already, that’s $933 dollars a month in just two expenses. Down to $467 to cover all other expenses in a month. There’s car insurance, as a car is a requirement for the position. We are to drive our personal vehicles around the county with no financial support for auto services from the agency except a gas reimbursement. Then there are cell phone/internet bills, groceries, gas, credit card bills. What about money to do things with friends? What if there’s a sudden car issue? And this is as someone with no children. It’s just too little.
Direct care jobs are stressful enough that the last thing anyone needs is to go home and stress about money. This leaves workers with a difficult choice: leave your connections with your clients for higher wages or stay struggling and burn out.
The Brien Center administration is aware of their low wages. I was told that the center is financially poor and nothing can be done. The excuse I found the most dismissive and patronizing was; we’re not in this field for the paycheck.
The Brien Center says it’s the responsibility of the unions, the union says it’s an issue with grant writing and allotting money for direct care workers, maybe it’s a problem with agency culture and treating direct care workers as disposable and easily replaceable. Maybe it’s all that and more.
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