Last week, Mayor Jenny Durkan signed into law that Seattle will no longer issues special certificates to allow specific employers to hire specific employees to do a specific job for a wage that may be less than minimum wage. These certificates typically were used by employers as an accommodation to allow them to hire people with significant disabilities that interfere with their ability to be as productive as a non-disabled peer.
For the people who worked under these certificates the job is much more than a wage to them. The people involved typically work 2-25 hours a week, also received SSI cash benefits (which are then reduced somewhat with the earned wages – see formula for this reduction below) and other supports in the community and home to assist them in activities of daily living and community integration.
This legislation was based on lies propagated by the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities. The information they used to push this harmful agenda was also a series of half-truths with censorship of concerns leading this group to say there was unanimous agreement among disabled people .
It is true that this request for information sent out from the Office of Labor Standards generated the most response they have received on any request. But the information shared by the Commission took this a bit further into an outright lie.
The proposal to kill the exemption has generated “the largest amount of discussion the Disability Commission has ever received on a topic,” according to the letter. “Subminimum wage is overwhelmingly opposed by workers with disabilities.” Commissioner Shaun Bickley says, he’s unaware of public opposition to the rule change
While the co-chair tends to lies, Karina Bull, Policy Manager for Seattle Office of Labor Standards, reports a different account in this Housing, Health, Energy and Worker’s Rights Committee meeting dated March 29, 2018, She states “we had our most robust rule making processes. We received more comments for this change than we have for any other – we had almost 70 people respond with a slight preference for prohibiting the practice of sub-minimum wage for people with a disability.
“Thank you for writing Councilmember Herbold regarding the subminimum wage issue. The Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities (PwD) conducted a four-month review of Seattle’s policy and practice as well as held a public comment session to hear from the community and organizations. Additionally, they reached out to all the businesses that currently utilize the subminimum wage. The PwD Commission received no comment opposing the elimination of the subminimum wage certificates. Some people contacted Councilmember Herbold’s office concerned that people need the subminimum wage to get jobs. Yet, no people with disabilities contacted Councilmember Herbold’s office to say so. Since the PwD Commission, through their individual lived experiences, can speak to these issues best, Councilmember Herbold asked that I share with you excerpts from the PwD Commission letter that outlines several specific points as evidence against these concerns specifically and opposing the subminimum wage as a policy. ” (from correspondence with Alex Clardy, Legislative Assistant to Councilmember Lisa Herbold)
Of note, the PwD Commission just copied/pasted part of a report from the APSE Advancing Employment Connecting People (The Association of People Supporting Employment First) without understanding the background and other recommendations in the bullet points shared.
The Commission for PwD also lied about the numbers of people involved and their wages. The total lack of understanding of what these jobs mean to the people actually involved is an outright act of discrimination.
The Commission refuses to provide answers to critical questions with this legislation and the supposed research that was done. Given that there was a transition plan for the enactment of the minimum wage law in Seattle and all the research that I have read on this issue (including the 3 reports the Commission used as their research) reports there needs to be a well planned and funded transition plan in place prior to elimination of special certificates. Where is the transition plan and phase in of this legislation? It appears that was not considered and there were immediate changes made which were harmful to those involved.
Unfortunately, again in an act of discrimination, there has been an elimination of these special certificates with no transition plan (at least that I have been aware even given my multiple requests for information on this issue). The Commission’s responses to me on this issue accuse me of lying and spreading false information and publishing personal attacks and libel.
The interactions I have had with the Commission have been most frustrating. Below are some of the first comments and interactions I had with the Commission my attempts to learn about the legislation. I had been blocked from the Commission for PwD Facebook page so shared this to my personal page to which a Commissioner made these comments.
It needs to be noted that not ONE person on this commission has an intellectual and developmental disability and they do not understand the issues involved with the need for these certificates or that we all need to have choice and these certificates provide some choice for those who would be unable to work if they did not exist.
Another article about the Commission’s work in ending subminimum wage in Seattle.