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Creating change – in the world and the workplace

Written by Harsha Walia and Leila Toledo

Over the past few years, the BC Civil Liberties Association has focused its attention on how we can create a different world and a different workplace than the one so many of us are raised and trained in. We want to be part of creating change, both out there in the world and within our organization. Our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan notes “The BCCLA values our staff and seeks to promote   their   well-being,   consistent   with   our   values   and   to   ensure   the   sustainability of our work.”

As the BCCLA’s (outgoing) Executive Director and the Director of Operations and People, we are thrilled to be sharing four important steps the BCCLA is taking to build a more equitable wage structure, permanent job security, and meaningfully valuing all teamwork.

For many years, BCCLA has been a Living Wage Employer, officially certified by Living Wage for Families B.C — the organization responsible for certifying employers. A living wage is higher than the legal minimum wage. It provides economic security by setting the bar to reflect what wage individuals and families need to bring home based on the actual costs of living. For several years, the BCCLA has used the Living Wage Calculation to establish an annual minimum salary of $43,680.

However, we are now going even further. As of July 2021, the BCCLA’s minimum salary for 1.0 full-time, permanent employees is $52,000 per year. We have also increased the salary ranges for all staff, with a current average salary of $75,200 and a median salary of $74,500.

As a non-profit organization, it is extremely difficult to find the financial resources to support these changes, and it is far too common to think that organizations such as ours simply “can’t afford” to shift. It may also raise eyebrows that an organization whose mandate is to serve others would spend so much of its resources internally.

However, we firmly believe that valuing the labour and dignity of our team is consistent with our fundamental mandate and values. Even as we are surrounded by constant crises and urgency in our work, our team’s contributions — particularly those whose work is typically underpaid in society — must be valued. Lifting up the wage floor of our team helps cultivate connection and shared purpose, shifts legal work cultures toward equality, and means we are more effective in advancing our mission. Increasing the wage floor is also an equity issue, as racialized women workers tend to be the lowest paid staff in administrative roles.

Parallel to lifting up the wage floor, last year we took the bold move of instituting a maximum cap on the salary of the Executive Director. This is an important way to reduce large wage disparities across the organization, and demonstrates to our team that we are working together to build a better, more equitable, and more sustainable workplace.

We recognize that salaries are not the only factor affecting job security. We have also moved toward changing our temporary contracts into secure, permanent employment and are minimizing part-time work contracts. While some temporary contract positions are inevitable, such as covering for parental leaves or backfilling, we understand that permanent positions are important for job security and tenure. Full-time, permanent work also means we can strengthen our fantastic team and our many relationships and collaborations.

Finally, we have changed and retired a number of job positions. The position of Legal Assistant, Office Assistant, Administrative Assistant, and Executive Assistant are all common positions in legal organizations and non-profits. BCCLA has had some of these positions. However, based on reflection and important staff feedback, we have removed all ‘Assistant’-level roles in the organization and have created new job titles and job descriptions. While we all have varying responsibility to assist each other in our jobs, having a degree of autonomy and control in one’s job is key to dignified work. This is also crucial move to address entrenched gender bias in the workplace, and the common experience of being overwhelmingly subordinated to another person.

As BCCLA’s former Legal Assistant, and one of the advocates for this change, says: “There is a commonly held belief in many office cultures, whether conscious or not, that the work of assistants is somehow beneath those who do not hold that title. If you google the definition of ‘assistant,’ the first one provided is ‘a person who ranks below a senior person.’ It is a job title that is literally defined based on its inferiority to others. It does not begin to describe the countless hours of coordination, planning, and project management that are core to secretarial and administrative positions.  Changing the job title and description to Litigation and Office Coordinator more accurately reflects the day-to-day work in this position, and the respect the BCCLA gives to this type of work.

These are just some of the first small steps in this journey. We are also reviewing a number of our policies and practices, and we support efforts on the staff team towards collective bargaining. We know we have more work to do, and we are excited to share more developments with you. If you are a BCCLA member or donor, we thank you for making these changes possible and for being part of our work.