Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Interview with Kerry Baharanyi & Petition for Fair Pay

Social media allows for professionals to connect in a way that we could not in the past. On one of the NASW groups on LinkedIn, I came across a link by a social worker, Kerry Baharanyi, regarding a petition she had initiated for Fair Pay for Social workers. Here is what Kerry has to say about that petition:

Why did I start the petition

I started the petition because I am a big proponent that each one of us can change our system, community, and policies, one person at a time. I went back to school in my late twenties, and I have always known that I wanted to work and help people, but I was never sure, what major to take. I started out as a freshman in psychology and then received an associate degree in sociology because I love research. A part of me was still feeling that I had a calling, but I was not sure what.

I came across social work by accident. I was transferring to Auburn University to complete my bachelor degree when some recruiter told me about social work, I wanted to continue with sociology, but the program was going to be “terminated” according to the recruiter, she proposed that I should pick social work as a major. I did since I was 28 year old and I thought I need to make a living and stop working at dead end jobs.

I was nervous to say the least during my first social work class. I paused for a while because I felt at home just listening to the core values of social work. My favorites are dignity, worth and social justice. I knew then that this was my calling as ‘cheesy’ as it sounds. I was aware that I was meant to be a social worker.

Throughout my education in social work and even now as a professional, there is a big emphasis in “service,” meaning that social work should always help the vulnerable populations without expecting any monetary pay out. Obviously, we do not get a “check” when we do our internships because we give our time and skills to non-profit organizations which for the most part  need free labor. In return, social workers understand the ability to change lives without expecting money in return and gaining experience.

I remember all my professors stating that social workers have a great career ahead of them due to the versatility of the social work degree. There was always a constant reminder that any social worker should not expect “to be rich” in this field because once again, we need to give and give and not expect anything in return.

I worked for 3 years at a domestic violence shelter making $7.25 an hour while I was completing my undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work. One of my passions and interests is violence against women. I was never able to meet my own needs, but I understood that I was playing a crucial role in my community and that victims of violence needed protection. I was 30 years old with a BSW, in grad school, and I had to live with my mother since I could not afford to live on my own. I am thankful for additional jobs such as Tutoring French. I knew that it was time to move on when my life was put in danger by the clients living in the shelter. I had to move on, but this is what we do, sometimes social workers put their lives in danger, literary,  to meet the needs of the people we serve. But I truly thought that getting paid $7.25 an hour was not worth enough for me to put myself in life threatening situations. I cannot even blame my clients since they deal with so many barriers such as mental illness, homelessness, abuse, lack of support, and many more.

I was so excited when I graduated with my MSW, and a concentration in Children and Families, from the University of Alabama in May of 2012. Then, reality hit. I started looking for jobs in the state and abroad. I have always been opened to work as a social worker domestically or abroad as I see myself as a citizen of the world who can change lives. I applied for at least 100 jobs, had two call backs and I had an offer for $27,000 with a MSW. I was shocked and puzzled. One might say it’s because I did not have real social work experience with my MSW. However, what about internships, volunteering for years, and three years of experience under my belt in crisis intervention at a domestic violence shelter, does it not count for anything? I guess, it did not matter. They kept saying that I do not have enough experience and that I needed my license. I completed my license in 2 months after I graduated, and became a Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW). Still the job offers were under $30,000.

How am I supposed to meet my own needs with $30,000 a year or less? Think about other professionals with a master degree; they earn at least $5,000 to $10,000 more than social workers. I really take into consideration that working for a non-profit, one cannot expect to earn the same as a person who works for a profit driven business. However, I expect fairness and fair compensation. I am not accepting the fact that when I start discussing about fair compensation, I have people telling me that I should not focus on the money as a social worker, “you knew what you got yourself in when you decided to be a social worker.” I do not believe that being a social worker means taking a “vow of poverty.”

As social workers, we advocate for our clients, but we do not do enough for ourselves; therefore, I took it upon myself to be that change and to demand change. I love being a social worker. I have the passion, the experience, the education, even the “loans” to show that I am a part of a great profession that is versatile and deserving of fair pay. We live in a society where gender can still dictate how much we earn. We all know that social work is still seen as a “women field,” which translates to earning less than our counterpart; men.

I would like to have at least 500 signatures and call the NASW chapter in Alabama, and go to DC and knock on their door and hear what they have been doing. I know that the NASW is fighting for this profession, but I do not think they are doing enough. I want  NASW to go to Congress with social workers from all of the states, marching and telling our stories. I want them to keep trying to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. I want NASW to stop expecting us to pay $100+ in membership, and even more on licensurethat differs from state to state, which means if I transfer to another state, I have to retake a test, pay more money and go through red tape. So much for licensure reciprocity!  I want  NASW to create a uniform testing for licensure where we can just transfer. I want the profession of social work to be unionized if nothing changes.

If you read my petition, you can hear the voices of people from all over the states, with many years of experience; while they love their jobs, they cannot meet their own basic needs. A lot of social workers are living pay check to pay check, yet we stay strong. We have a passion to fight for the voiceless, and I refused to be silenced by other social workers or professionals who think that social workers should just accept their fate!

Kudos to Kerry and personally, I agree with much of what she says. My first job offer out of graduate school was $23,000. I continued the job search and accepted an offer of $30,000 and this was 16 years ago! Unfortunately, salaries have not changed much over the years and certainly do not equal the rising costs for basics of food, shelter, clothing and transportation.

While I have read on social media is the new CEO of NASW, Dr. Angelo McClain, has a goal of advocating for the profession, what does that mean? He has also initiated a NASW CEO inbox (naswceo@naswdc.org) to hear from members, social workers, and other stakeholders regarding the issues that concern them the most. Many should send emails with their hopes, dreams and suggestions for the profession re: needed change.

Contribute and sign the petition, if interested. I encourage other social workers in all the U.S. states to start a similar petition to present to their local  NASW chapter, with an end goal of presenting to NASW National.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW
Staff Writer

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