Through policy advocacy and grassroots leadership development, the members of Just Economics of Western North Carolina marked several items off the organization’s 2015 to-do list. Among the most notable: getting the city’s living-wage policy extended to include part-time, temporary and seasonal employees and the implementation of Sunday bus service through Asheville Redefines Transit.
“Our mission is to educate, advocate and organize for a just and sustainable local economy that works for all in Western North Carolina,” says Vicki Meath, executive director.
Operating in Buncombe and Transylvania counties, the group took on addressing the shortage of affordable housing last year.
And Just Economics doesn’t pause to look back on prior accomplishments. Now that the group has been successful in its push for weeklong bus service, Meath says it plans to move forward on its 19-point agenda for improved transit schedules, with a focus on evening service.
Just Economics partners with a number of organizations to accomplish its goals. Often, Meath says, this approach allows partnering groups to share task forces, public forums and much-needed funds and manpower. In 2015, The Success Equation, a project of Children First Communities and Schools, helped Just Economics develop a plan to address the city’s affordable housing crisis at a citywide level.
Empowering the workers
The nonprofit’s living-wage employer certification program, introduced in 2008, was modeled after a program in Ithaca, N.Y. The program is now the largest in the nation, with more than 400 participating employers, Meath says, and Just Economics has helped create a replication toolkit for other communities. The group has since helped other groups launch programs in North Carolina’s Durham and Orange counties, as well as in Durango, Colo., and Phoenix. The economic impact of the program now nears $1 million per year, she says.
“We’re working to raise the wage floor and the consciousness of the community on the systematic level, but we’re also having direct impact on employees. We’re putting nearly $1 million a year back into the hands of low-wage workers, which is typically then circulated in the local economy.”
The low-wage worker is an important, respected and valued part of the work of Just Economics, and the group intends to have “all voices at the table,” Meath says. “So we are very intentional about making sure that the people who are most impacted by the problems are involved in creating the solutions.”
In an effort to train low-wage workers to become local leaders, Just Economics offers an eight-week grassroots leadership program, Voices for Economic Justice. “The intention is that they’ll become leaders, not just within our organization, but in the community,” she says. Last year, the program graduated more than a dozen students.
Meath says the organization hopes to strengthen its existing programs in 2016 and continue elevating the often-silenced voices in society until a more balanced economic community is achieved.
“Our focus is to not just grow the largest living-wage certification program in the country but to really strengthen the network of employers so that we’re providing support. We’re not just putting a sticker on folks’ door, but we’re also really working together to build a more sustainable economic community.”
For more information, visit justeconomicswnc.org.