Philly organizations complain after nonprofits fumbled paying teen workers
With his first paycheck from his first job, Jaeden King wanted to take his mother out to dinner. He was told he would be paid every two weeks after he started Fabulous Youth Philly as game captain.
That first check didn’t come until a month after he started work.
“I was so excited to work,” said the 15-year-old. “I had planned my other two weeks. OK, that’s the money I’m gonna spend to go to work. It’s the money I’m going to spend to buy the things I love. This is the money I will save.
King is one of many Philadelphia teenagers who had their first job experience turned sour when the program that funds their summer job, ready to workstruggles to pay the young people they have pledged to support.
“I don’t know of any adults who would come back to work after not being paid for their first two weeks on the job,” said Rebecca Fabiano, executive director of Fab Youth Philly. It is essential that teenagers are paid on time, she said.
“This is their very first professional experience for most young people. And we inadvertently teach them that we don’t care about them.
His was among half a dozen organizations that expressed concerns in an Aug. 15 letter to the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), which operates WorkReady. Organizations have expressed frustration that many of their young workers are having to wait weeks to a month to be paid for work this summer.
Farrah Farnese Roma, vice president of programs for PYN, said in an interview that incomplete documentation from teens and groups as well as communication issues between PYN and providers were to blame for much of the delays. All of the teenage workers registered in her computer system have been paid, she said.
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“As of today, commencing on our last pay day of [Aug. 12]nearly 6,000 young people have received payment and we have distributed over $5 million in payments across the city through our program,” she said.
Janine Spruill, Founder and Executive Director of Little filmmakershad a different accounting:
“More than 52% of my children haven’t been paid,” she said.
Philadelphia Youth Network aims to eradicate poverty and help young people find work. The WorkReady program provides funding to approximately 80 organizations across Philadelphia. According to PYN’s 2021 annual report, more than 6,600 teens participated in WorkReady summer programs. Figures for this year have not been released.
Fabiano said she understands the past three years have been tough for many organizations, but the pay issues with the WorkReady program have been around longer than the pandemic.
“It’s kind of an open secret among suppliers, unfortunately,” she said.
Fabiano also noted that neither she nor the organizations that spoke out want to blame PYN. They understand he’s trying to do good for the teens he serves throughout the Philadelphia area, but the issues have lasting impacts on young workers and their ability to trust systems.
Spruill said his teenagers often spend $5 a day on public transit to get to their offices on Lancaster Avenue. That’s about $150 for the six-week program. When children are not paid on time, she says, she has had to drive teenagers and her program has had to buy food to ensure they have lunch.
Spruill said she has struggled with payment issues for her teens for several years. They are now asking their teenage workers to turn in the completed paperwork by mid-June, knowing that the six-week program starts after July 4.
“We didn’t want to have any hassles about paying kids because we’ve experienced that every year,” said Spruill, who founded the nonprofit in 2009. Still, more than half of his teenagers did not receive any money. on time or had problems with checks.
Zaniyah Byard worked with Lil’ Filmmakers this summer. PYN offered a $500 bonus to any teenager who filled out the paperwork early, and it did.
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The 17-year-old was excited to start saving money for college. She also took a part-time job at Burlington Coat Factory for this reason. Yet she didn’t get a check for her summer job until after her six weeks program completed.
“It was very frustrating because I was really excited to be able to start saving,” the North Philadelphia teenager said.
Spruill and Fabiano noted that PYN and the WorkReady program are essentially the only places providing large-scale workforce development funding for teen workers. And they understand the desire to help black and brown teens who may be struggling financially or surrounded by violence.
King’s job at Fab Youth Philly was his first. He started working at Play Captain Initiative – a program that sends teenagers to PlayStreets, which provides safe spaces for children to receive meals and play during the summer – on July 5. According to a payment schedulethe pay period ended on July 10. The checks would be dated July 15 and sent.
King did not receive his first paycheck until August 1.
“I needed to buy stuff with that check,” King, from northeast Philadelphia, said. “And when that didn’t happen, I had to rely on my mum.”
Sheila De La Cruz also started working with Play Captain on July 5, but wasn’t paid until August 13, after the program ended.
De La Cruz was eager to use the money to buy a new phone. Those plans never materialized for the 17-year-old.
“I wanted to use my money,” the North Philadelphia teenager said, “and it was frustrating that they didn’t pay me when they said they did.”