Representatives for over 3,000 city seniors rallied at City Hall last Sunday to demand a pay increase for Department for the Aging employees at senior centers across the city as the turnover rate for these employees continues to skyrocket.
The rally was led by Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. of Howard Beach, who is the chairman of the council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, and Councilman Erik Martin Dilan of Brooklyn, the chairman of the subcommittee on senior centers.
Approximately 3,200 employees would be affected under the plan, which would raise their salaries for the first time since 1999. Most of the workers earn between $22,000 and $25,000 per year.
For 20 years, the city adhered to its policy to raise the workers’ rates the same percentage each year as similar union employees from District Council 37. But the policy was non-binding, and the Giuliani Administration disregarded it five years ago.
Now, senior centers are forced to pay higher rates to union employees while they remain on the shoestring budgets of the past, while non-union employees are forced to work without the promise of pay raises. As the union salaries escalate, many of the non-union workers are laid off as the centers struggle to make ends meet, Addabbo said. “There has been a decrease in services for our seniors.”
Bobbie Sackman, the director of public policy for the Council of Senior Center and Services, called the non-union salaries “a pitiful amount of money. Ultimately they need higher baseline salaries. But first we need to get back in the loop. The first step is getting them something meaningful.”
The suggested 5 percent pay raise would cost the city $6-8 million, which would be added to the DFA’s annual budget. The mayor has not allocated the money in his proposed budget, but DFA Commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago has told Sackman he is working behind the scenes to make it happen.
Jessica Walker, a policy analyst for United Neighborhood Houses, an umbrella group representing 36 settlement centers, said that “the fact that there hasn’t been a cost of living adjustment has hurt turnover rates of people who care for parents and grandparents.”
Twenty percent of city seniors live in poverty, Sackman said, twice the national average, and the 85 and older demographic is the largest growing demographic in the city. Unless there is a rate increase, she thinks the city is on a foreboding path toward a fiscal and social crisis.
“With the growing population of seniors, if we can’t pay for the front line of service, the seniors get hurt. It’s not about working with the seniors. People like working with the seniors, but they don’t increase the budget and union salaries go up. You can’t do that without running deficits or cutting other staff, and you can’t do that forever. That’s just simple math.”