From Jennie Msall
Current Organizing Fellow and Youth/Family Organizer at St Stephen’s Episcopal Parish Youth Programs
Beginning this fall, partner organizations are being asked to hire JOIN Fellows at a salary range of $28,000-$35,000, and to provide health benefits commensurate with other full time employees. This change from a minimum salary of $24,000 came out of conversations between current fellows about justice within JOIN.
This past year, I’ve frequently scheduled lunch dates with my co-fellows Sarah and Davida, who work within walking distance of my placement organization. During one lunch, Davida had just come from a meeting at Crittenton Women’s Union, where she had learned about their report that measures “how much income various family types across the Commonwealth require to meet their most basic expenses- housing, utilities, food, basic transportation, child care, health care, clothing, essential personal and household items, and taxes—without public or private assistance” (2). The report explains that a single adult living in Boston should be making at least $28,717 in order to meet basic living expenses in Massachusetts.
After Davida shared that number, our conversation turned to the fellowship’s current minimum salary of $24,000. Many of us had previously expressed that this was a low amount to make while meeting student loan payments and other living expenses, and that the JOIN salary was a potential barrier for candidates to apply to or participate in the fellowship. With our concerns confirmed by the Crittenton Women’s Union, we decided to talk to Karla Van Praag, Executive Director of JOIN.
Davida and I met with Karla on a February morning, wanting to learn more about how the minimum salary had been determined, and if there was any openness from JOIN to set a higher minimum for partner organizations. We learned that Karla had last increased the minimum salary four years prior, in a prior effort to remain consistent with the founding vision of the organization in 1998, which focused on nourishing (and paying for) the social justice organizer, rather than underpaying them and burning them out. Nevertheless, she said, setting the minimum salary is a balancing act, where JOIN wants to maximize benefit for the fellows, while also providing a financial incentive for organizations to hire JOIN fellows.
After talking through the report findings with Karla, she agreed to look into raising it, and asked us to help with some research about how an increase would impact placement organizations. Over the next few days, we designed and sent out a survey to past and present partner organizations, explaining that we were considering raising the minimum salary. We wanted to know how the cost of participating in JOIN compares to hiring a full-time staff member for a similar role, if the organization’s ability to participate in JOIN is strongly connected to the minimum salary, and if a salary increase would impact the organization’s interest in and ability to host a fellow.
While many of the organizations responded to the survey saying that they agreed with the reasoning behind increasing the minimum salary, some were concerned that an increase would affect their ability to host a JOIN fellow. JOIN’s leadership decided that the plusses of changing the base salary outweighed the minuses, and decided to proceed. JOIN remains committed to working with each of our partners to make sure they can continue to host fellows, despite the higher salary, and can offer support through creative fundraising opportunities and small salary stipends.
In addition to advocating for the change within JOIN, my fellow Fellows and I have spent parts of our JOIN sessions discussing common self-care issues in the organizing world, like being overworked and underpaid, and sharing tools for negotiating salary and benefits. I am grateful to be part of a fellowship that was founded with the belief that social justice professionals shouldn’t get “used up” and should be treated fairly and with respect. And I am grateful to work with other fellows who understand the importance of making social justice work emotionally and financially sustainable, so that those same workers have the ability, energy and desire to continue to fight for social justice in the world.