"I moved to Seattle from Kansas City in 2015 with the hopes of contributing to the cultural sector in the arts non-profit field. Compared to cities I have called home across the East Coast, South and Midwest, I was impressed by the extent to which Seattleites value arts and culture and integrate cultural events and creative activities into their lives. However, I have been deeply disappointed to find that the working conditions for full-time employees in these fields are as exploitative as they are anywhere else in the country, if not more.
From March 2017 through January 2018, I worked for a Seattle arts nonprofit with annual expenses of $1.3 million and annual revenue of $2.4 million in 2016; we had a staff of nine. As a full-time employee in administration and development, my annual salary was $34,000 a year, with no paid overtime. I was responsible for training volunteers outside of normal work hours, working programmed events that took place from 6 - 10 PM, and administering our annual gala and other fundraising events associated with a major capital campaign, so I frequently worked overtime without compensation. Although I took the job with the understanding that the position was salaried and overtime exempt, I felt exploited by the very clear expectation that I work overtime regularly, and not as an exception to the norm. When I calculated the wage that I was making per hour each week — given the overtime hours I worked — it frequently came out to less than $15/hour.
This kind of situation is all too common, but it doesn’t have to be this way. I had held a similar position at a non-profit in Chicago fifteen years earlier (2002-2003) — during a recession — where I made $33,500/year and was paid time and a half for overtime hours. This brought my annual compensation to about $40,000 plus benefits. At that time, I held a B.A. and had very little work experience. I lived in my own small apartment and could afford to attend cultural events and even make charitable contributions.
Fast-forward to Seattle in 2017, where I could not pay rent on my salary and supported myself by using up savings I had accumulated over 12 years, in addition to racking up $6,000 in credit card debt during 2017-2018. I rented a bedroom in a house where I shared a bathroom and kitchen with four people and could not afford to take part in the cultural life of Seattle. There were all kinds of literary readings happening and events like the Seattle International Film Festival that were a big part of my reason for coming out to Seattle in the first place, but there was just no way I could afford to participate in my passions.
Despite my personal commitment to the work of the organization and my lifelong interest in the field, these working conditions caused me to take a higher paying job elsewhere. Fair compensation would have enabled me to share my expertise with others and contribute to my community the best skills I have to offer.
I am encouraged that the state of Washington is considering substantially raising the cap on overtime-exempt employees. I know that it would have made a difference to my past self, and it may make a different to my future one, as well.”
— Naomi Beeman, Office worker, Seattle