The New York State Public Employees Federation is launching a campaign to improve publicly employed social workers’ conditions.
The “Respect Us, Protect Us, and Pay Us” campaign aims to address challenges social workers are facing such as noncompetitive salaries and short staffing.
A report from the Public Employees Federation found almost 90% of the nearly 1,200 social workers surveyed said they were considering leaving their job with the state. Most people cited low pay.
Randi DiAntonio, vice president of the New York State Public Employees Federation, is a state social worker of 26 years who also said social workers do not feel safe at work.
“Part of it is related to short staffing,” DiAntonio outlined. “Social workers are being asked to cover on units where they don’t have enough direct-care staff, they’re on units where there’s not enough medical staff, they are going out into the field often by themselves when historically maybe they would be partnered with somebody.”
She noted the situations social workers are facing and the people they are serving have changed the working environment. DiAntonio hopes to see raises come from the state soon, although it may take some time. Others want to see part of the $1.1 billion allocated to mental-health programs in the 2024 New York State budget used to help retain mental health staff through salary and staffing increases.
The trend of low pay has been occurring across the field of social work. A report from the National Association of Social Workers New York State Chapter noted 34% of social workers surveyed are at the same salary when they started their job, which on average began one to five years ago.
DiAntonio described what she hears from social workers about the current state of their field.
“They’re doing a lot more with a lot less,” DiAntonio observed. “What I mean by that is that their caseloads, in some instances, have tripled. We have social workers that their caseloads were capped at 40 that are now at 80. We have social workers in corrections that have caseloads of upwards of 200 people.”
She added the effect of the increases are diminished quality of care from social workers. According to the Public Employees Federation report, more than 80% of social workers have found their caseloads increased substantially.
Edwin is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He’s previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR’s Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.