Session: Can't Fight Poverty in Poverty: Organizing for Equity in Social Work (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

125 Can't Fight Poverty in Poverty: Organizing for Equity in Social Work

Friday, January 13, 2023: 2:00 PM-3:30 PM
Estrella, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
Cluster: Work and Work-Life Policies and Programs
Amanda Spishak-Thomas, MSW, Columbia University
Amanda Spishak-Thomas, MSW, Columbia University, Lauren Toppenberg, MPH, MPAff, Columbia University, Melanie Sonsteng-Person, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles, Susan Lob, MSW, Columbia University and Pilar Bonilla, BA, Hunter College
The NASW code of ethics implores social workers to challenge social injustice with a particular focus on issues of poverty while emphasizing social workers need to provide service to the community, leaving those in our profession underpaid and overworked. While the code of ethics states that it is our responsibility to ensure our clients and their families have their basic human needs met, it is time that social workers advocate for our own access to "resources, employment, services, and opportunities." In recent years, social workers across the country - including graduate student workers - have exercised their right to unionize and collectively bargain for equality in terms of livable wages, improved working conditions, and access to high-quality, affordable health and mental health care.

There are gross inequalities in the field of social work that span from the university setting to community organizations. Without a safety net and access to resources, pursuing a career in the social work profession at any level has become untenable for many, leading to a profession dominated by higher income white women. Within the field, unpaid internships are where much of the inequities in the social work field originate. Unable to earn an income to support themselves, MSWs graduate with significant debt, and are often forced to take jobs that pay below a living wage. This has led to several nationwide organizing efforts demanding equity for social workers. Additionally, U.S. universities have become increasingly reliant on graduate student and adjunct labor to perform tasks that would otherwise be performed by higher-paid faculty and staff. These more precarious workers are not afforded the same benefits as full-time employees or professors. Addressing these inequities, social work graduate students incited nationwide organizing efforts demanding higher pay and better benefits. At the same time social work adjuncts are organizing for their own pay increases and building unions across the country.

This roundtable session will begin a dialogue about advocacy, organizing, and unionization in the social work profession. Panelists will represent a range of diverse perspectives and highlight organizing efforts for fair pay and job protections across social work roles and includes an MSW student, PhD students, and an adjunct faculty member. The session will open with the advocacy efforts to secure payment for practicum placements and improved working conditions for MSW students. Next, panelists will describe organizing efforts of the Social Work Equity Campaign to improve pay and working conditions for social workers in the field. Further, union organizers will outline the path from being the lowest paid student workers on campus to achieving pay parity using a social work values-driven hardship fund to support workers during a 10-week strike. Finally, our last speaker will focus on the reliance on adjunct labor and the importance of organizing long after graduation. The audience will leave this session with a clearer understanding of how the social work profession can lead the movement for fair pay and safe and equitable working conditions.

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