We All Want to Pay Our Staffs More, But This Legislation Isn’t How To Do It

marilyn nolan smallerMarilyn Nolan, Preferred Family Health

We’re all aware of the common perception about working for nonprofits: that it’s a lot of hours and not much money. And we probably all wish we could wave a magic wand to change the reality, because we’re passionate about the work we do – that’s why we’re here, after all!

This is why the Department of Labor’s pending legislation to change the threshold of who gets overtime is so important…and not for the reasons you might think. Previously, if employees made more than $23,600 and supervised two or more people, they were exempt from being able to collect overtime pay. The proposed legislation would move that threshold up to $47,892 before employees are exempt.

I have very mixed thoughts. On one hand, I’m in favour. Of course  we want our staff to have good salaries, and I admire the Obama administration for attempting to ensure that. At Preferred Family Health, we pay more than the current minimum amount to our supervisors. On the other hand, the jump to the new threshold involves a huge hike that not many nonprofits could absorb..

The law was clearly meant for for-profit businesses. Our industry is different because our revenue typically comes from funding, gifts, or grants. We can’t adjust our scale or simply sell more product to make up the difference from the hike. Although the pay increases are much-deserved, there’s no question that they could bend many already-tight budgets to a breaking point.

The bill was advanced to the Office of Management and Budget on March 14 but was stopped by members of the House and Senate just three days later with the proposed Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act. We’ve heard that legislators have been flooded with feedback from nonprofits

One of my main issues with the legislation is that it calls for immediate rather than phased-in implementation. This means nonprofits would have to change their practices quickly. My team is currently doing time studies with our service hours because we don’t want to be reactive if the other shoe drops. I’ve heard of other organizations who are planning to change their work weeks, shifting the beginning to Thursday or Friday and giving staff days off during the week so they can continue to serve clients over the weekend.

What non-profit professionals can and should do right now is speak to our legislators about this bill. We can express our concerns and explain our unique situation. I encourage you to contact Missouri Senators Roy Blunt (R) and Claire McCaskill (D) or Illinois Senators Richard Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) to encourage them to halt the bill and find a more phased-in approach to this common goal. (You can find their contact information at senate.gov/genera/contact_information.)