Earlier this month, a Texas judge blocked a federal rule that would have granted overtime pay to employees earning less than $47,476 a year. Then, as the December 1st implementation deadline came and went, we read about a number of corporations, including Walmart and TJX, the parent company for T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, that decided to uphold their plans to offer overtime for certain employees so that their take-home pay would better reflect their long hours and significant operational responsibilities.
While we are not economists or labor lawyers, we do know quite a bit about what it takes to help people escape the trap of poverty and move into the middle class. Because of that, we applaud these for-profit employers for recognizing the significant costs of burnout and turnover among the front-line managers and new professionals that are essential to their businesses, even if this recognition may no longer be backed by the force of law. At DC Central Kitchen, we welcomed this federal rule and despite the decision in Texas, we have moved forward with our plans to ensure overtime pay to all employees earning less than $47,476 a year, effective immediately.
If you know DC Central Kitchen because of the three million meals we serve each year to our most vulnerable neighbors, or because of our main location in a homeless shelter basement in downtown DC, you may be surprised to hear us proudly talking about taking on the significant financial burden of expanding overtime compensation. In fact, our main focus is on training women and men with histories of incarceration, addiction, or homelessness for culinary careers, and hiring them whenever possible to help prepare our many meals.
With 73 of our own once-jobless culinary students now working for us full-time, it is especially important that we remain a leader in progressive employment practices. For years, we have offered starting wages pegged well above the DC living wage and a progressive benefits program that helps employees getting back on their feet begin to address long-term health challenges, save for retirement, and set their families up for lasting success. In the last fiscal year alone, we spent over $5.5 million in living wage salaries and approximately $800,000 in health insurance costs. While that might sound like a lot, our tremendous success in promoting lasting job retention and reducing criminal recidivism among our graduates means that we are providing a net gain to the District. Instead of using tax dollars to lock people up or house them in shelters, our city is seeing these same individuals become taxpayers themselves.
In short, we believe in putting our money where our mission is. For years, we’ve seen too many other well-meaning nonprofits place excessive burdens on their entry-level employees, asking them to work untold unpaid hours for ‘the cause,’ leading to burnout, turnover, and an inadequate accounting of the costs of doing good.
When a nonprofit is able to tout how little of its budget goes to paying its own people, donors should ask who is bearing the brunt of that decision. While it may sound like that charity is using every penny to meet the needs of others, its employment model may lead to personnel and performance issues that undermine the very services and impact the organization is promising to deliver.
With nonprofits accounting for more than 11.4 million jobs in the United States, we have a responsibility to be leaders in developing 21st century workplaces that are inclusive, affirming of work-life balance, and committed to ensuring that hard work pays off in America. To do so, we need our donors and government officials to understand that crises like hunger, poverty, racism, and chronic disease will not be solved cheaply, while nonprofits like us need to be honest about the cost of delivering effective solutions.
DC Central Kitchen will always comply with local and federal regulations, but whenever policies that are good for workers and their families are rolled back, we will continue to press forward with a business model that affirms the value of everyone who works here and reflects our belief in the unmatched power of good jobs to transform lives.