Workers at Seattle nonprofit just got a $20,000 raise, and we should all pay attention

Nov 15, 2021, 5:40 PM | Updated: Nov 16, 2021, 11:18 am
choose 180, Seattle nonprofit...
Choose 180 is a youth diversion program that uses restorative justice in King County. (Hanna Scott, KIRO radio)
(Hanna Scott, KIRO radio)

Imagine your job is to work with young people, those experiencing homelessness, or anyone who may need to turn their lives around. Then, imagine your job is to convince them there is a better future down a better path, all while you live paycheck to paycheck, just one emergency away from ending up homeless or couch-surfing yourself.

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That’s the reality for many nonprofit workers in King County, but the head of one local nonprofit has just taken dramatic action to change that – and he’s hoping it catches on.

“About two weeks ago, we informed our staff that we raised our minimum wage to 70k,” CHOOSE 180 Executive Director Sean Goode told KIRO Radio. “It’s super cool, because our lowest paid staff member prior to that meeting was making about $48 grand a year, and so there’s some people who came into that meeting making $48,000 to $50,000, and left that meeting with the understanding that their next check was going to reflect a $20,000 a year raise.”

That makes for a huge increase, and one that will cost the nonprofit an additional $400,000 to cover CHOOSE 180’s 24 staff members.

So, why do it?

“The reality is, it was simply the right thing to do,” said Goode, admitting he did not get there overnight.

“It took me a minute to figure out that it was the right thing,” he explained. “It took a lot of pushing by our team and work from our board to help illuminate where some of the inequities are.”

“But at the end of the day, when we look at the landscape of Seattle and King County and how expensive it is to live in our region, when people are making $48, $50, $55,000 and they have any type of dependents, or even as a single person, it is virtually impossible to get by,” he added. “And if you are getting by, you are just getting by.”

CHOOSE 180 is a youth diversion nonprofit based in Burien.

“It is an organization that works to transform systems of injustice and support the young people who have been harmed by those systems, and practice what that looks like, as we partner with folks like superintendents, prosecutors, law enforcement, to change the way that they function by co-creating with them programming that lives in community, that becomes an alternative to the punitive practices that we’ve used historically,” Goode explained.

“When [the pay raise] was first brought to me, I was like, ‘it sounds good, I’d love to do that in a perfect world,'” he continued. “We don’t live in a perfect world. My response when it initially came to me was like, ‘Look, we’re already paying above market rate for the roles that we have within our organization.'”

Goode also pointed out that CHOOSE 180 was already paying mid- to higher rates than most nonprofits with a starting pay of about $18 an hour.

“And that was my justification,” he explained. “But what I was doing was comparing myself to an already inadequate baseline that wasn’t providing in the first place.”

“Before we made the choice, I talked to one of my team members, and she’s a single mom who lives in South King County,” Goode recalled. “And I said, ‘do you ever think about buying a house for you and your daughter?’ And she laughed at me. She just chuckled, and it broke my heart, because that shouldn’t be a laughable moment.”

“Then another team member came to me — and this is what got me over the edge — and they said, ‘Look, we talk about our young people, and how we need to change the material conditions that they’re living in,'” Goode said. “Because those material conditions are what perpetuate the spread of this disease of violence. These inequities, and health care inequities, and education, access to quality groceries, child care, work in the neighborhoods that you live in — all of these things — housing instability — are all rooted to the material conditions that our young people and families are living in. And she asked me, ‘Is it possible that we’re supporting our team members to live in those same material conditions?'”

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And that pushed Goode over the finish line to the $70,000.

“It takes somebody to say, ‘let’s go ahead and do this thing,’ and we’re going to go ahead and step up and step out on faith and believe that the people who support our work will also do the right things, that our funders, the city and county are the foundation partners, our grant partners, that they will see and recognize that you know what, you’re right,” Goode explained. “You can’t do this work in this region and expect people to be able to provide for themselves if you’re not paying them a living wage.”

He knows he’ll be able to fundraise to make up for the spending on pay raises. Goode is sharing this move in the hopes that it not only catches the attention of those who fund the nonprofit, but also to all the other nonprofits, cities, counties, states, and private employers, so they too realize the importance of paying a living wage.

“As a person who gets to steward this like I am, I’m on cloud nine for what it means for our team,” he said. “And furthermore, for what it means for our region, and what’s possible for other nonprofit organizations and funders to really lean in and begin to create the space for folks who do the work to not live in the same conditions of those that they’re serving, while we’re trying to lift them up out of these material conditions that have caused so much harm.”

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Workers at Seattle nonprofit just got a $20,000 raise, and we should all pay attention