‘They Can’t Live on Their Desire to Serve Others’: More Bay Area Nonprofit Workers Are Joining the Labor Movement

But some nonprofit workers said the city’s efforts barely scratch the surface of their needs. Sam Meredith, a social worker with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said in July that the raise ranges presented by the city “still don’t really address what we’re fighting for.”

He said it took the strike to get the city’s attention and their demands met. The contract that THC workers ratified in September included an average raise of 22%.

Employees at Compass Family Services, another nonprofit that helps San Francisco residents find stable housing and economic stability, will vote in November on whether to form a union.

“Our workers aren’t getting paid enough [and don’t have] good enough health benefits, child care and all that kind of stuff,” said Amy Huntley, a case manager at the organization. [at] this organization could end up in the situation that our clients end up in.” She added that management has been discouraging workers from voting to unionize, arguing that a union would add an extra layer to the organization and drastically change how the organization works.

Saba Mwine, managing director at USC’s Homelessness Policy Research Institute, said many of the people who work in social service nonprofits also have experienced homelessness themselves.

“Folks working in this field are already going above and beyond. Just the fact that conditions are such that folks are needing to also organize on top of the work they’re doing is unfortunate for us as a society,” said Mwine. “We ideally would really support their work robustly, because without that community of workers, there’s no way that we’re going to be able to end or even meaningfully address our homelessness crisis.”

A Glide employee tries to speak with a man who fell asleep on the street while waiting in line for a bed at the organization’s shelter in San Francisco. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

People working on the front lines of the homelessness crisis can experience “secondary trauma” from the stories they hear and situations they witness, she added. Many workers also have valid concerns about their own physical safety and “a lack of training, professional development and advancement,” said Mwine, pointing to a recent report about conditions and retention issues at organizations that serve the unhoused population in Los Angeles. “I think there’s a sort of psychic weight, because you feel the weight of the fact that homelessness is increasing despite your everyday efforts.”

Locally, nonprofit workers’ efforts align with several recent organized labor actions in the private sector. Janitors at Meta went on strike last week in response to mass layoffs, while restaurant employees at San Francisco International Airport successfully won a $5 raise and family health care following their three-day strike in September. At Kaiser Permanente, some mental health care workers are entering Week 9 of an open-ended strike over what union representatives call an unsustainable workload and unsafe therapist-to-client ratios.