The Brick House recently offered a promotion to a staff member of color, Nina Yagual, without increasing her pay to the same rate earned by the white person who had previously held an identical job title. When Nina came forward to discuss her questions and concerns about this disparity, she was met with unclear responses, and received no commitment to provide compensation from the organization. As a result, she resigned.
The Brick House owes it to Nina, the rest of our staff, the youth and families we serve, and our entire community to immediately address this issue. We need to look more closely at how our organization has been replicating patterns of white supremacy, beginning with an examination of the factors and decisions that led to this particular wage disparity, moving on to an understanding of how we undervalue, under-appreciate, and undercompensate certain categories of work, and fixing both.
With six paid staff and four volunteer board members, the Brick House strains and stretches every year to serve community needs with the revenue we have available. Employees have not been given comprehensive information about how to use the monthly board of directors’ meetings as a resource for addressing grievances, or advocating for raises. There is no transparency around the wage and pay structure, so staff have not easily been able to compare their pay to that of their co-workers. When administrative and managerial responsibilities have been reallocated among staff, the board has reallocated additional pay along with it. Meanwhile, direct service work has often sped up out of view of the board with no corresponding increase in pay. There are currently no people of color in leadership roles in our organization. In recent years, we have tended to hire staff of color into direct service positions at the lower end of our pay scale. The net effect of all of these independent factors has been the emergence of a racialized hierarchy in the workplace.
We are committed to taking the following corrective actions:
- We will study decision-making and resource allocation within the organization in order to recommend a fair rate of pay for this employee and, starting this evening, establish a donation campaign in order to compensate her retroactively.
- We will give staff the option of adopting a wage transparency policy, so they may better advocate for fair compensation. Such a policy would also allow us to make the fiscal-year budgeting process more transparent, and involve more staff in planning. If there is not a consensus among staff in favor of such a policy, we will continue to protect employee privacy.
- We will make program budgets more transparent, ensure all staff understand how decisions are made in the organization, and make board meetings more accessible to staff participation.
- We will improve our culture of recognition and appreciation to better value work done by staff who provide direct services, as well as program participants and community volunteers.
- We will develop a strategic plan for fair compensation that pushes back on perceived norms about how various forms of work, education, or experience should be valued. The plan will be intentionally anti-racist, and a central goal will be to increase pay for direct service workers.
- We will better reflect the constituencies we serve by bringing people of color into our organization’s leadership.
All of these steps toward becoming a better organization are only being taken thanks to Nina’s efforts. We apologize for the harm we have caused her, and thank her profusely for bringing these problems to our attention.
While we are gathered tonight to celebrate two other long-term staff members who have moved on this summer, we want to take the opportunity to encourage community members to donate to a parting fund for Nina Yagual, whose skilled, difficult, and caring work has been undervalued, both at The Brick House and in our larger community. As a concrete example, Nina contributed many hours outside her role in the teen center, designing and painting the beautiful new mural on the Unity Park fieldhouse, along with community members, Brick House supporters, and other volunteer artists of color. In her time here, teen center participation increased by 125%. She went above and beyond her job responsibilities to create a truly vibrant, supportive and creative space for youth of color to feel safe and uplifted.
While we as an organization are addressing the issue of direct compensation for Nina’s labor, we also believe her brilliant work is deserving of a large community gift, separate of our professional accountability process. Tonight, we are encouraging community members to contribute towards a gift that will help her relocate to Florida and support her capacity to continue impacting communities through art and social justice wherever she goes.
Donations for Nina will be accepted at the going away party this evening. Separately, community members are working to organize a fundraising campaign for her, which will be made public on our facebook page within the next week.
If you would like to join us in conversation about equitable wage disbursement and racial justice, please join us on Saturday, November 4th from 4-6pm in the Front Room at The Brick House. We welcome the added accountability of discussing these issues publicly.
Dana Lee Mengwasser, Executive Director
Meaghan Carr, Mike Jackson, Deborah Frenkel, and Willie Gussin, Board of Directors
The Brick House Community Resource Center
24 3rd St, P.O. Box 135
Turners Falls, MA 01376