What’s all this about sub-minimum wage?

In recent years there has been a push to end sub-minimum wage jobs.  I totally agree that people should be paid a fair wage regardless if one has a disability or not.  If the person is able to do the job – with our without supports – that person should be paid at least minimum wage.  No argument from me at all on this point.

But, there is also another side of the story that is not heard (or ignored) with regards to employment and those with profound and complex multiple disabilities.  This population is often the population that if employed, is employed at a “sub-minimum”  or commensurate wage based on productivity at the job.

What is also often missed in this issue is that fact that a job is much more than a paycheck and for a specific segment of our population, this job, even though it pays sub-minimum wage, is much more than a job and money to the people who are actually involved.  We cannot lose sight of this fact in the quest “to do the right thing” without understanding the whole situation.  Most of these people do receive public benefits already due to the fact that the majority have some sort of intellectual and developmental disability.  The wages they earn are not what they live on for food and rent – although every little bit helps because what they receive from public benefits is clearly at poverty level.

Recently, Liz Plank, a video blogger and journalist,  recently posted a video titled “Divided States of Minimum Wage”   This is a great story about Collette and how she has started her own cookie business and hires other people with disabilities to work in her shop. This is a great story and one of wonderful accomplishment.

It’s a very complex issue though and it does not help that people such as Sarah Launderville,  the Executive Director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living.  Unfortunately, Ms. Launderville misinterprets the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA – DOL)  law and goes on to say that people get paid based on what percentage of disability the person has and goes on to say “so you’re saying you’re half a person.”

There is a public Facebook group called Disability Visibility Project

Disability Visibiilty Project - Facebook

I posted my concerns regarding this video on the DVP site and was lambasted by others.  My comments were major triggers for many people on that site and I was since blocked from the site.  While I eventually self-identified as being disabled myself (I am and have even lost a job due to asking for an ADA accommodation) I was repeatedly called out as an ableist and other nasty terms.  Even when I asked one person to read what I wrote before swearing at me and making judgments this is the comment I received:
ableist shit comment

Once labeled – there is no opportunity to clarify since every comment is twisted and misinterpreted.   I followed the commenting guidelines more closely than most of those who swore and labeled me – but since I was reported to the moderator, I was blocked from the site (as were a couple of other people who spoke some truth).  If you are interested in reading the comments, here is a link to a PDF (DVP Banned Facebook Comments March 2 2018the of the post or you can go to the Facebook page of Disability Visibility Project and read/comment there.

 

I have made efforts to clarify issues regarding the certificates and advocating for people who chose to work in these types of employment settings.  I have attempted to illustrate various types of obstacles that would be difficult to overcome, even with appropriate supports, for many of these same people to work in an integrated employment setting.    It’s not as simple as just paying someone minimum wage when one needs intensive supports.  There are issues of transportation, funding and training for job coach who needs to be there at all times and issues with personal care assistance (typically job coaches are not able to help with personal care giving) just to start the list.

Another huge issue is the fact that in supported employment for people with intensive support needs, the work hours usually top out at 10 hours a week.  Vermont has an average of 8 hours a week and New Hampshire has an average of 11 hours per week.  So even though the person earns minimum wage the income earned is minimal.

This then creates another major issue – if the person is now only working 8-11 hours a week, what is that person going to do the rest of the day?  While working in a “sheltered workshop” people may receive their physical therapy on site, make and eat their meals, have personal caregivers and peers on site.  There are many opportunities to engage with others and be out in the community.  When work hours are drastically cut, many people have nothing to do but sit home alone.

How do we progress and move forward?  I’ll keep advocating for my son and others and I’m sure I’ll be called more names and blocked from other sites too  – but hopefully, someone will read it and understand and help to advocate for those who are not able to advocate for themselves.

 

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