Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Progressive Nonprofit Opposes New Overtime Law

As you may know, new federal regulations will go into effect which make more people eligible for overtime pay, specifically by increasing the threshold for eligibility to those who make $47,476 annually (compared to the previous threshold of $23,660).

The left-leaning (and Ralph Nader-founded) Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has issued a statement opposing this new regulation, saying in part:
"Doubling the minimum salary to $47,476 is especially unrealistic for non-profit, cause-oriented organizations. Organizations like ours rely on small donations from individuals to pay the bills. We can’t expect those individuals to double the amount they donate. Rather, to cover higher staffing costs forced upon us under the rule, we will be forced to hire fewer staff and limit the hours those staff can work – all while the well-funded special interests that we're up against will simply spend more." (emphasis in original)
I am sympathetic to the argument that it will cause hardship for many nonprofits to comply with this new regulation, as by definition, nonprofits do not operate to create profit, they operate to implement a purported social benefit. They generally operate on revenue from donations, grants, and special events (and at times earned income).

However, I strongly disagree that nonprofits should be exempt. Many nonprofit employees already have lower salaries and fewer benefits than those working at for-profit entities, a state of affairs which workers choose to self-sacrificially accept for "the greater good." Yes, it's a somewhat dysfunctional model that nonprofit management also accepts, in some cases due to economic necessity and, in other cases, because they intentionally exploit workers.

Studies consistently show that women make up the majority of the nonprofit workforce, at around 70-75%, although men (of course) hold most of the top-level, highest-paying positions.  Any exemption of overtime pay for nonprofits would thus undoubtedly impact women to a greater degree than men.

Now, PIRG has been critiqued throughout the years before for its labor practices, with one employee who sued the organization calling the group the "Wal-mart of nonprofits."  Which, if true, seems appalling and profoundly hypocritical.

To speak more broadly, feminists have long said that "the personal is political."  For instance, those who deny that a wage gap exists or who explain it away as a result of "personal choices" ignore or do not understand that "personal choices" can never exist in a void.  Outside, institutional, and political forces usually at least partly influence personal problems and hardships, as well.

And yet, this simple slogan becomes relevant time and time again with respect to leftist movements, doesn't it?

The personal is often dismissed as subjective, irrational, and/or as "identity politics" - which is contrasted with the real, authentic, universal work of the movement, which is usually just whatever a majority within a movement or those with more power say the real, authentic, universal work is.

To argue that nonprofits should not have to pay overtime to their employees would impose upon those employees a personal economic hardship for a purported greater political good of allowing these nonprofits to fulfill their missions (in PIRG's case, combating special interests). We see, in other words, a compromise of sorts. A break in ideological progressive purity.

Political movements usually do have to make compromises, so my intention here is not to disparage compromise.  Compromise is often the only way to actually accomplish things in the real world. My point is, instead, to serve as a reminder to be on guard as to (a) how the greater good is being defined by any given movement and (b) who is continually being asked to compromise, to assume hardship, and to sacrifice for this greater good.

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