If your demands include paying social workers much higher salaries, won’t this take money away from the very people we work with?

As long as working with the poor, marginalized and oppressed is seen as less valued work, neither worker nor client/community member will receive what they deserve. This is a long-term campaign over many years to change that perception. These initial demands are designed as clear “asks” that can be done without waiting for systemic change. At the same time, the demands help shift the conversation to one that recognizes the collective needs of social workers as being just as essential as those of nurses, teachers and those with whom they work.

Doesn’t this campaign undermine the lobbying/legislative efforts underway in Washington DC and elsewhere by being critical of national leadership?

We are all for the success of these on-going efforts. We also aware that successful negotiation for any group depends not only on the technical/political skills of our lobbyists but the stature and power of that group to offer both carrots and sticks to decision-makers. For 40 years we have used a singular “collaborative” approach based solely on “from the top” reports and data that has been ineffective on their own. This is why incomes and benefits for social workers have fallen so far since the 60’s, unlike those of teachers or nurses. This campaign seeks to rekindle a professional culture that uses a collective approach, joining with clients, community members, and other social movements. Such collective voice would state unequivocally that lessened pay and harsh working conditions are all part of systemic racial, gender and class inequities that must be challenged directly.

Aren’t the issues of licensure, reimbursement, and other funding requirements far more complex than any campaign like this could hope to address?

Complexity on these issues is both real and easily becomes a smokescreen for maintaining the status quo. Alongside these issues are simple truths that, if resolved, would help diminish a lot of what now seems complex.

Simple truth: no MSW-level social worker should be offered a job for $17.96 an hour in Oregon or at $35,000 in New York.

Simple truth: no BSW-level social worker should have to work a second job to make ends meet…and still qualify for SNAP benefits.

Simple truth: social worker burnout cannot be resolved solely through individual efforts at self-care, but with agency executives addressing their own funders to pay attention to working conditions.

Simple truth: social work programs that churn out more and more social workers with fast-track, on-line programs (sanctioned by CSWE) aid and abet the diminished stature of their well-meaning , but under-prepared graduates.

Simple truth: academics whose research interests never include some focus on topics such as agency working conditions, the effect of low pay on staff turnover, or the effect of deskilling on those who work with the poor help perpetuate the diminished status of the social work profession itself.

Why not just join one of the groups already working on the code of ethics, reimbursement and other lobbying efforts?

This campaign’s focus is on mobilizing thousands of social workers, with or without professional degrees, on seeing that their individual financial problems and work-related stressors can only be resolved through collective efforts inside their agencies and within the profession itself. It is to establish a cultural norm that sees such collective efforts as stemming from people proud enough in what they do that they will no longer tolerate public indifference to either themselves or those with whom they work. It is a campaign willing to work on legislation with others…and willing to stand strong, arm in arm, when such efforts once again do nothing to alter the beleaguered status quo.

Is this campaign pie-in-sky, hopeless before it begins?

Sure, we’re starting as a small group with few resources and a patchwork quilt of practitioners and academics from all over the country. So what? Rosa Parks, E.W. Nixon and the Montgomery NAACP weren’t very large when Mrs. Parks sat down on that bus 70 years ago. While what we are doing is far less consequential than their efforts were, we share their common belief: the inequities of the past and present cannot continue, and for change to occur, people must take a stand on where they see the arc of justice needing to bend. To that end, we ask you to sign our petition, spread the word, and join us!