Goodman Community Center | Goodman’s Living Wage Initiative focuses…

Goodman’s Living Wage Initiative focuses on employees

GCC adjusts pay so employees have more financial security working in the nonprofit sector.

September 1, 2023 |
A Goodman Community Center staff member leads children on an outing away from the center.
GCC instituted an internal minimum wage of $20 an hour for all adult employees. Based off what is considered a living wage in Dane County, Goodman employees now have more financial security.

By Jacob Link, Eastside News

The Goodman Community Center is doing something unprecedented in the Madison area; paying its employees based off a living wage instead of a minimum one.

Goodman announced its new Living Wage Initiative July 18, which adjusts the wages of its employees so that they have more financial security while working in the nonprofit sector. The initiative boosts the internal minimum wage to $20 an hour. All staff who were being paid less than $20 an hour were increased to at least that much. Staff up to and including assistant directors who were already making $20 an hour also received a wage adjustment to address compression, which can happen when starting salaries for newer employees are set too close to the wages of existing, experienced workers.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator, the wage to support a single adult with no children in Dane County is $18.02 an hour. After looking at the living wage data for the city of Madison and Dane County — and what GCC could afford — GCC Executive Director and CEO Letesha Nelson and her directors came to the conclusion that $20 an hour internal minimum wage would be the best for Goodman.

Nelson said the wage adjustment was important to help the staff understand that the community cares about them.

“It’s time to take care of the people who take care of our community,” Nelson said. “The work (GCC staff) do every day to help this community is important, and we should always be lifting them up. We always talk about taking care of the community, but (staff) are our first community, literally.”

The first paychecks with the wage adjustments were sent out July 14, something that GCC custodian Gerard Blake said was a huge improvement for him.

“This is my primary job but I also work at Kwik Trip, so since I have this raise, I won’t need to work at Kwik Trip everyday now,” he said. “Now I can just be there on the weekends because I got the raise here. I’m just so happy I can spend more time with my family, and I can worry less about paying my bills.”

Blake said he had been asking for a raise from the day he was hired at GCC in order to help support his family.

Gerard Blake, a custodian at Goodman Community Center, plans to use his wage adjustment from the Living Wage Inititiave to provide more to his family.

August Halbach

Custodian Gerard Blake plans to use his pay adjustment on a larger home to his family.

“I was really happy when they announced the living wage initiative because when I first got hired, I was asking for more money and they were like, ‘Maybe, maybe we can.’ But it was a happy maybe, with smiles and everything,” he said. “Once I heard we were getting the raise, my manager came to me with a big smile and was like, ‘See! You got your raise!’ Outside of work, me and my family are looking for a bigger place to live because I have three kids and they all need their own rooms now. The pay raise really helps us because now we can find a decent place to live. I really needed the money.”

Nelson said she can’t speak for other nonprofits but is hopeful that other organizations in the Madison area can use Goodman’s Living Wage Initiative as an example for their own programs.

“There are several nonprofit organizations who have already increased their base pay to a living wage, but Goodman is the first one to announce we’re doing it in this big way.” Nelson said. “My hope is that our Living Wage Initiative will help start a movement around the city to pay employees a living wage.”

In addition to the pay increase, GCC staff will have access to a new financial literacy education program and will continue to have benefits such as free child care, a health care plan, a retirement plan and at least five weeks of paid time off.

“This wage adjustment means that I will be able to meet my basic needs and have money left to do some extra things, like buy new tires for my car, pay off some outstanding bills and possibly take a few fun days!” said Judy Fillner, a GCC preschool teacher.

“It’s time to take care of the people who take care of our community. The work (GCC staff) do every day to help this community is important, and we should always be lifting them up.”

The idea for the initiative began when Nelson first joined GCC in 2021 after she started asking her staff what they need on a personal level. Nelson then attended a Rotary Club meeting where she listened to former American Family Insurance CEO Jack Salzwedel talk about the company’s efforts to raise the base pay for new employees. It was at that meeting that Nelson knew a Living Wage Initiative would be the right move for her staff.

“When I first came into the organization, I was really looking for a way to be impactful and then I started spending time with staff and having powerful conversations with them,” Nelson said. “We just started talking about how we could enhance their experience here at Goodman, and (providing a) living wage was a way we could (have an impact) at every level of the organization, not just in one place.”

Goodman’s Living Wage Initiative is designed to be a five-year plan, with the organization aiming to have enough money to pay its staff a minimum of $20 an hour until 2028. GCC plans to address fluctuations in Living Wage based on inflation and other financial factors every few years as long as its budget allows.

LOFT youth worker Kijuan Smith said it was very refreshing to hear about the new initiative because he said it felt like the upper-level staff members had his back.

Youth worker Kijuan Smith's (right) wage adjustment will help pay monthly bills.

August Halbach

Kijuan Smith (right) said it's easier now for him to pay his bills after the wage adjustment.

“I was super excited when the living wage initiative was announced,” Smith said. “As a dad, it makes it a lot easier to pay the bills and take care of my family. It also helps increase (GCC’s) employee pool because it makes it easier to keep people, knowing that they can work at a place like Goodman and still manage to take care of their family financially.”

“We have some generous donors who love us, who have history with us and know that the work we are trying to do is important, so we started talking to them about what we’re trying to do with this new initiative,” Nelson said. “We were able to have three donors step up in a major way to give us three-fourths of what we needed for our five-year plan. We’ve secured funding for the first three years, and we’re going to need the community’s help to get the rest of the way.”

Donors such as PRL Keystone Foundation (led by former Goodman Executive Director Becky Steinhoff), the Leola Culver Family Foundation and the David and Nancy Walsh Family Foundation have already committed $2.025 million for the new program. That leaves approximately $760,000 left to sustain the program for the full five years.

“People are a nonprofit’s most valuable asset, and it’s time we start truly valuing our direct service and nonprofit workers,” Lea Culver said. “I have been a longtime supporter of the Goodman Center because I believe in its mission of strengthening lives and securing futures, which must include its staff.”

Abby Sibilski, who works in Goodman’s older adult program, said that she thinks the Living Wage Initiative will ultimately make the center a better place, and said she appreciates all the effort the donors put into making the program a reality.

Abby Sibilski works with Goodman Community Center's older adults.

August Halbach

Abby Sibilski appreciates what the Living Wage Initiative is doing because it helps people who help the community.

“This initiative is super important because it helps the people (who) are taking care of their community,” Sibilski said. “People need to remember that our staff members need to be taken care of too, and I think this initiative really helps our staff financially. I think it’ll make our staff members want to stay longer, (so they are) able to make more of an impact on the community.”

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