Plaster saint,” Anthony Majanlahti

March 6, 2019; Mercury News (San Jose, CA)

The City Council in Fremont, California has voted 5–2 to exempt nonprofits from its requirement, set in January, that all local businesses pay employees at least $15 an hour. This expands the initial vote’s exemption for nonprofit employees age 21 or younger. A $15/hour wage, presuming full-time hours, amounts to $30,000 over a year’s time. (As a benchmark, the median price of a property in Fremont, which is in Silicon Valley, is more than $700,000, and the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is nearly $2,200 a month.)

The rationale for this move, lifting nonprofit workers up as saints among us, is a convoluted mess. “People who work at these nonprofits don’t get into it for the money; they get into it because they want to help people,” says Councilman Rick Jones, who proposed the amendment. “And they see the need, and this is what they want to do. But so many of our nonprofits are struggling with the funding both from the federal and state government, as well as our own budget. And I would hope to see that go forward, so that we don’t lose some of the vital services that are available to our residents.”

Jones isn’t the only one who thinks a vow of extreme poverty is necessary to work in a nonprofit—at least at the entry level. Councilwoman Teresa Keng said, “These employees are not working for the money, and having to force [nonprofits] to match that increased minimum wage would probably be too much for them to handle.” For a brief moment, Vice Mayor Raj Salwan suggested “it should be the same for everyone, as far as minimum wage,” but the he voted for the amendment because he is “sympathetic to nonprofits.” And Councilman Yang Shao worried some nonprofits might “have to close their organization and leave because they cannot afford the cost.” How about workers who might be forced to sleep under a bridge?

Luckily, California’s minimum wage will increase to $15 an hour for large businesses by January 1, 2022, and for small businesses by the start of 2023. Let’s hope that no one gets too “sympathetic to nonprofits” at the state level before then.—Ruth McCambridge