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‘Caring for Ourselves:’ Social service workers to meet Oct. 4

Labor-Center-column-logo-trans(Sept. 9, 2014) — One of the most painful ironies in our low-wage workforce is the number of people providing essential services to the un- or under-employed who are, themselves, low-wage workers. I’m thinking about all those committed social workers trying their best to help low-income communities with housing, food, job training, transportation, and mental and physical health services, and often earning less-than-a-living wage themselves.

This is especially true in the world of small non-profits. And these are often people with bachelors’ degrees, or even more advanced degrees. They are doing labors of love, but often having less-than-loving work experiences.

We can all applaud their dedication and big hearts. We can be thankful for their hard work and the expertise they bring to their jobs. And, at least in Seattle, we can be somewhat comforted that, within the next few years, they will be earning a minimum of $15 per hour.

But I think we can do more. While this workforce is caring for others, we can help them think about caring for themselves and each other. We can provide them with a forum through which they can work to increase the quality of their jobs, while they strive to improve the quality of their clients’ lives.

LERC-Caring-for-Others-Oct4With OPEIU Local 8, the Labor Center is hosting a half-day conference on Saturday, Oct. 4 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Georgetown campus of South Seattle College called Caring for Others, Caring for Ourselves. Participants will get a copy of the Washington State Workers’ Rights Manual and three workshops will be offered.

First, participants will choose between two workshops: Taking Time Off From Work on leave laws and Safety at Work. The second workshop focuses on how workers trying to help people laboring under the significant stresses of poverty, illness, long-term unemployment, etc, may find themselves facing particular safety risks at work.

Finally, there will be a plenary session for everyone to discuss strategies for organizing to make things better at work. For some, this will mean unionization but, even short of a full collective bargaining relationship, how can workers speak with a collective voice when working with management to improve the quality of their work lives?

We hope this mini-conference will be the first step in an ongoing dialogue among workers in the housing and social service fields. Please circulate the flyer for Caring for Others, Caring for Ourselves (download here) and help us advertise this event. The registration deadline is Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, and it costs $10. Contact the Labor Center (206-934-6671 or with any questions.

If you have labor education questions or topics that you’d like to see addressed in future Working Education features, email me at

Sarah Laslett is Director of the Washington State Labor Education and Research Center at South Seattle College. Her column — “A Working Education” — is a regular feature of The Stand. Learn more about the Labor Center here.

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