“We Did It” (not)

We did it

Seattle passes elimination of special certificates – leads to job losses for people with disabilities

Injustice – this law certainly is.  It was propelled through a rapid process with little thought, planning or research done.   The backers of it told half-truths at best to out-right lies about the people it affected, will affect and their research.  They refused to answer critical questions from concerned advocates and community members, harassed and wrote libelous comments about people who disagreed with their “cause.”

One would think that the Seattle Commission would be a little more concerned about the fall-out from their victory – but given that the Commission has no clue about what it takes for job development, job skill building, appropriate supports and funding for those supports too be sustained, they apparently think that magic will happen and jobs will appear because of this law.  They think their job is done.

Now we can clean up their mess. 

The 2017 Commission for PwD had an Employment Committee with some great goals – although elimination of the special certificates was not among those goals.  I’m not sure when and how that became the goal but it appears that the other goals were forgotten.

Employment Committee

The fact that the Commission for PwD has no follow up or evaluation process it is up to others to do that.  The lies continue – coming from both people on the commission and the Mayor.

Since the Commission for PwD no longer has an Employment Committee, they can sit back and pat themselves on the back for their wonderful work.   I think they need to be held accountable to their actions  – I’m trying to get the information out but it’s hard when I’m blocked and censored.

My son and I went to their meeting yesterday to give a Public Comment to The Commission for People with Disabilities April 19 2018.  Even though we were there at the published time for the start of the meeting and public comments, the Commission was already on their 3rd or 4th agenda item, no sign in sheet and no acknowledgement.

They make it very difficult to be involved in processes which affect our community members – curious how they think they are meeting their purpose of accountability and working with the community on issues that concern them.

accountable to community

Below are just a couple of the outright lies that the now Co-Chair of the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities wrote:

“The Commission IS disabled people, half with I/DD, several with intellectual disabilities.  We had testimony from disabled people and family members across the city, all in support.  We have already worked with the families and employers affected by this legislation, all of whom supported and consented to it.  

Don’t make assumptions and assume the disabled people are too stupid to decide what we need or to collaborate with other disabled people.”

 

“That’s why the rule change, proposed and advocated for by people with I/DD is so fantastic.  Your assumptions are just that:  assumptions that have no basis in fact.  I’m not college-educated and we have multiple members with ID and I/DD – just because you don’t agree with our conclusions doesn’t invalid our experiences.  

BTW, we worked not just with disabled community members but with the workers, their families, and employers, all of whom agreed to this change, none of whom are losing their jobs.  Please don’t make assumptions about us or decide what we need without talking to us. “

Fallout: Loss of jobs and hours in Seattle

Social Justice Activists in the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities are showing how little they understand about the lives and choices of people with complex and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities.  With no planning in regards to transition for employees, employers, vocational training and job development, this commission has pushed for the rapid elimination of certificates which allow special wages for a certain population.

Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and members of Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities

Specific employers to pay specific employees a specific wage for a specific job

These certificates are not a “catch-all” loop-hole to allow employers to pay any person with a disability less than the minimum wage.  The commission leads people and legislators to believe that these certificates are easy to get and allow employers to exploit their employees.  ACTIVISTS – PLEASE GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT

There is no “loop-hole” and there is no exploitation.  There is choice and alternatives that are based on an individual’s person-centered planning. These activists have literally pulled the rug out from under those who were employed with this certificate and those in the future who would have benefitted from this choice.  It is no longer available and there are no substitutes.

The people affected by this new law were working in integrated, community settings.  These jobs were a route to inclusion and community.  This is what people with disabilities and their advocates have been wanting.  Things were working well for the employee with a disability, the employer, the community and the family/caregivers of the employees.

That is until the Commission threw a monkey wrench into the lives of people hthey do not know or understand.  The Commission has greatly misinterpreted research on the issue, misinterprets the law behind the certificates and how they are used and totally disregards the choices of those most affected.  The Commission has led community members and our City Council to believe these employees are exploited and has twisted the truth to outright lied about the situation in order to push his personal agenda.

Contrary to what the Commission claims,  there were many concerns voiced by people with disabilities and disability advocates against the elimination of the special certificates.  Unfortunately, the Commission does not think that these people have the right to voice an opinion and so discounts them.

What happened to “nothing about us, without us?”

 


There is inaccurate information regarding the sub-minimum wage laws and certificates, false information regarding the laws and actions in other states regarding sub-minimum wage and employment trends for people with intellectual disabilities.

SubminimumWageLetter from PWD commission


 

Social Justice?  Making people with disabilities unemployable in Seattle

Sub-minimum wage – godsend or exploitation?

Seattle has rapid elimination of sub-minimum wage

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda – thank you for the concern you have for our community members with disabilities. While I understand this has just passed into law, I believe there was some very critical information that was left out, not addressed and misrepresented by members of the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities .

The first issue is that these certificates are not “general purpose” to allow any employer to pay a person less than the minimum wage just because that person has a disability. They were for specific employers for specific employees for specific jobs. Generally, they are used for people with complex and often intellectual disabilities. It is an fact that those with intellectual disabilities, just be definition of the disability itself, may not be as productive as a person with a different type of disability – such as autism. Autism is NOT an intellectual disability but it is a developmental disability. This issue is one that the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities has failed to acknowledge and understand.

The second thing is that for people working in these job, they tend to work 10 hours or less a week and most often have a job coach to assist them in their job. The job coach may be 1:1 or only check in occasionally – depending on the support needs of the disabled person. The funding for the job coach is typically paid for through the Developmental Disabilities Administration through the counties. Without a job coach, many of these people would not be able to get and maintain employment.

One example of this is the issue of my son. He does work in a supported integrated employment setting within Seattle. He does earn a bit more than the minimum wage and works 9 hours a week with a 1:1 job coach. The vocational vendor agency is paid $2700 per month to provide the job coach for his 9 hours of work a week. If for some reason a job coach is sick or on vacation and they cannot get a sub, my son is not able to go to work that day.

For people like my son, they are not working at these jobs for their sole income and they all tend to live in poverty. They most likely receive SSI which will be reduced from the $750.00 to something less based on their earned income. Due to the earned wages my son makes, his SSI is reduced to $532.00. He then needs to pay rent, utilities, food, household necessities, clothes, healthcare supplies not covered by insurance, and other necessities of daily life out of his SSI and earned wages.

People like my son (who needs to have 1:1 supervision during all waking hours) are generally linked with several agencies, family members, friends (natural supports) a healthcare team, community members and paid support staff to navigate daily life. It is collaborative web that can work very well – until someone tweaks one part without working with the rest of the team and it can then all fall apart.

For instance, my son lives in supported living with 3 other disabled young adults. Luckily, their agency does provide a reliable van for them to use but they need to coordinate transportation based on the residents schedules. They are the ones who transport my son back and forth to work each morning since my son needs 1:1 hand off from his support staff to his job coach – Access bus is not an option – nor is any type of public transportation.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities did little research on this issue and how it impacts the lives of those how work in these jobs. I have asked repeatedly for the research and the Commission has refused to provide it – but continues to refer to this non-existent research. I did provide the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities with links to a report from the National Council on Disabilities which had clear outlines for a transition from sub-minimum wage to integrated employment and their timeline was from 2-10 years. Not a rapid, sudden elimination of certificates.

I also provided another very useful resource from the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation which had very useful discussions and resources on how to encourage and create integrated work for those with significant intellectual disabilities. Again, this looked at a period of transition and planning for funding to be stable and sustainable for the required job skill building and training of job coaches.

I do not believe that either of these extremely useful and national resources were even discussed at a commission meeting because their decision had been made and any information from a person who did not agree totally with the proposed agenda by the Commission.   The Commission has stated many times that there was unanimous opinions regarding the elimination plan by disabled people and advocates denying the fact that there were many who had a different opinion.
Regarding other states who do not use certificates:

New Hampshire did not have any businesses using the certificates but updated their policies to officially end the practice if they were used. The minimum wage in New Hampshire just $7.25 an hour and disabled people can be paid less if part of an approved work training program.

According to the NH Developmental Services Employment Data Report – the average number of hours worked a week is 11 and the average weekly pay is $92.73. More than 50% of the jobs are 2-9 hours per week.

A case study of the transition from sheltered workshops to integrated employment of disabled people in Maine done by the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management highlighted the fact that when people leave the sheltered workshop, many work fewer hours per week and make less money than if they remained in the sheltered workshop.

Alaska recently banned the subminimum wage. Robert Dinerstein, a law professor at American University and director of the schools’ Disability Rights Law Clinic believes that Alaska will be able to accomplish an integrated work force by giving workers a job coach who goes to work with the person for the first month to help them “learn the ropes.” Evidently this professor does not understand the fact that some people may need the 1:1 support to remain employed – it’s not a “learn the ropes” and then on their merry, independent way.

Maryland has a 4 year phase out of “sheltered workshops” which they hope to have completed by 2020. The plan involves moving people from sheltered workshops to competitive integrated employment. Each individual making less than minimum wage will receive an individual plan for the phase out.

According to the United States Department of Labor “Subminimum wages must be commensurate wage rates – based on the worker’s individual productivity, no matter how limited, in proportion to the wage and productivity of experienced workers who do not have disabilities performing essentially the same type, quality, and quantity of work in the geographic area from which the labor force of the community is drawn. ”

The documentary “Bottom Dollars” by Disability Rights Washington and Rooted in Rights states “If people are given the proper services and supports and proper assistive technology, the sky is the limit for many, many individuals.” This I believe to be true but there is a big IF and that included funding needs to provide supports and sustain them. Did the Commission for PwD look at these issues?

Please ask the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities  about the research they have done and the transition plan they have developed for our citizens in Seattle.

Seattle Outlaws Subminimum Wage

Council votes to eliminate sub-minimum wage

Seattle bans lower wages

Seattle minimum wage law causes loss of jobs for people with IDD

Last year, the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, decided that Seattle needed to eliminate the special certificates that employers could utilize that would allow them to pay specific employees with specific disabilities a wage less than the minimum wage for specific jobs.  Typically, these jobs are based on productivity.  Many times people with profound intellectual and complex disabilities are not as productive as a non-disabled peer.  This is not an ableist comment but one of fact.  It’s not a matter of just teaching someone a skill but one of providing appropriate supports to enable integration for those who need support.

Then Mayor Ed Murray, stated ““The point of our historic $15 minimum wage law was to build universal equity in Seattle,” said Murray, according to a press release. “A loophole allowing subminimum wages for disabled workers has undermined that goal. We are correcting that error to make good on our promise and our values.” (Seattle Weekly, August 18, 2017.)

It’s unfortunate that this population already is greatly under-employed and also unfortunately, legislating higher pay for less productive work, will only make the unemployment rate for this population higher.  This decision lacked understanding of the support needs and various services utilized by this population, disregarded research done on the national level for well planned and funded transition plans which could provide stable and sustainable employment for people with complex disabilities.

Typically, for jobs under these certificates, the employees work 10 hours or less a week.  Many times there is a job coach involved – anywhere from 1:1 at all times to just checking in “once and awhile”. (The job coach is not paid by the employer but usually through public funds or grants through the Medicaid services or waivers) The wages the employee earns are reported to Social Security Administration and their monthly SSI check is reduced based on a formula and their earned wages.  These people live in poverty.

I contacted the employers and employees in Seattle who were affected by this law.

One employee did have her hours cut from 15 to 12 hours a week.  The employer believed that this employee was only about 75% as productive as her non-disabled peers and it was not fair to the other employees to pay the same rate.  So the employer did raise the wage to minimum wage but reduced her hours.  She is now looking for another job to replace the hours she is missing.  This employee has a job coach who checks in occasionally or when needed but is not on site for her regular hours at work.

Another employer stated that they did raise the wage to the minimum wage but it is a hardship.  This employee works 6 hours a week and has a job coach that is occasionally on site.  The employee’s hours were not cut but the employer did say that they would not be able to hire other employees with complex disabilities due to this new law and therefore it is harmful for the future by limiting options.

I am still in the process of interviewing employers and employees regarding this law and how it has affected them and what they think the future may look like. So far, it appears this law was more harmful than beneficial.

It is often believed that the people who work these jobs are working full time and toiling away for pennies an hour.  This is far from the real situation.  The special certificates allow choice and options for both employees and employers.  They are not intended to be used to hire disabled people in order to pay them less but used to encourage integration and employment of people with complex and intellectual disabilities.

This is social justice gone awry .

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Magical Thinking

Reading the news today that Alaska has banned sub-minimum wage and the kudos of the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities about this makes me think that these folks have magical or wishful thinking.  The illogicality of these decisions would be amusing if they were not so devastating for people and so consequently, I get very angry rather than laugh.

Robert Dinerstein, a law professor at American University and director of the school’s Disability Rights Law Clinic is quoted as saying “One approach has been to give workers a job coach, who goes to work with them during their first month on the job and helps them learn the ropes.”  I’m curious what will happen to those who need to have 1:1 support in order to be employed – do they just get to work for that one month and then lose their job?

Clearly Dinerstein has no clue about the level of supports that many who do work in sheltered workshop or those who work under a sub-minimum wage certificate need.

I have been at odds with the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities over their recommendation that the sub-minimum wage be banned in Seattle.  I asked several times to see the research that they claimed they did regarding sub-minimum wage and finally I was given their “research” – some reports and a couple of letters – non that were specific to the issues in Seattle.  In fact, the information in the reports was very clear that in undertaking the elimination of sub-minimum wage there needs to be a transition plan in place and the transition needs to take place over several years, maybe 10 or more in some instances.    It is embarrassing as a citizen of this city that such major decisions can be made without evidence based research and opportunities for those affected to provide their input.  What happened to “Person Centered Planning” and “Nothing about us, without us?”  It appears they don’t matter to the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities.

There are multiple reports and research with evidence based practices that can help to make a transition from sheltered workshop or sub-minimum wage to supported employment for those who chose this.  This option is not for everyone and can be very expensive and requires collaboration with many involved entities.

New Hampshire seems to be doing quite a bit of research and work to improve supported employment for residents.  There was a comprehensive plan on evidence based supported employment and a new, transparent data collection process.  There are reports issued every 6 months – this is the report for December 2016

NH employment data July 1 2016 through Dec 31 2016

Researchers from George Washington University did a case study of the transition from sheltered workshops to integrated employment in Maine.  To more fully understand the needed supports and the experiences of those involved, this report is very informative and does highlight the fact that when people leave the sheltered workshop, many work fewer hours per week and make less money than if they remained in the sheltered workshop.

Transitions - Sheltered Workshops

I do not support closure of sheltered workshops nor elimination of sub-minimum wage jobs that are allowed under the 14c certificates.  In addition to providing job support, working in a sheltered workshop can provide much more to the employee to enhance their quality of life and provide meaningful opportunities than many would be able to experience in an integrated supported employment setting.

We need to protect choice and opportunities together with person centered planning.

 

 

 

I worked in a sheltered workshop

For the past 3 years I worked in what was essentially a “sheltered workshop.”

I had worked for this large Medical Center for over 20 years when I developed a disability due to being a long-term caregiver to my son with intense support needs.  I requested an ADA accommodation which was very reasonable and actually would have been beneficial to the unit I had worked on – but the management had changed and this particular manager did not appreciate nurses who questioned anything – so consequently, the ADA accommodation that I requested ( to work 8 hours shifts, any day of the week, between the hours of 7AM and 11PM) was found to be unreasonable.  I essentially lost my job on the unit which I loved.

After being put on unpaid leave against my wishes and filing a grievance, the only job that this huge medical center could offer a skilled, committed nurse with compassion for patient care, was a position in pre-op surgery  – this job is the lowest of the low for nurses – a place where those who can’t do their jobs are sent  –   yet is supposed to be the final safety check for patients prior to going into surgery.  I saw the job just as that and became aware of many errors and issues that needed to be corrected – but rather than being thanked or appreciated for trying to improve issues with patient care and safety, I was continually reprimanded.  One manager told me that “this is like Swiss cheese, some things just slip through the holes”  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!

This job was in the basement of the hospital – 3 floors below the ground – no windows and smelled musty.  Countless days passed with no breaks and time was wasted trying to get the slow elevator to ground level which meant that the 30 minute lunch break was only 20 minutes or less.  My colleague and I were treated as people without brains – only people who were supposed to do one task over and over again (start IV’s in surgery patients) without thought to what was going on with the patients.  We were to act as robots without brains.  We were to ignore issues that were of concern to patient safety because our job was only to start the IV.  If there was a difficult patient or some issues that caused a delay, we were reprimanded for holding up the “flow” of the department.  What ever went wrong or slowed the process, was blamed on us.

I was called into the manager’s office many times to be reprimanded for looking up things on the computer.  I told the managers that I would look up things I didn’t know, medications I was unfamiliar with, conditions on the patient’s history and physical that I needed to know more about or education on nursing issues.  I was told that I was not allowed to educate myself on company time – that wasn’t part of my job description.

No wonder I began to hate my job and hate going to work.  I had never experienced such job dissatisfaction in my over 25 years of being a nurse.  I was essentially being paid to not think and to not be a nurse.  I felt like I had a master watching every move and if I didn’t stay on task a huge whip would come down on my shoulders and I lived in constant fear of being fired for trying to give quality patient care.

As I was talking to a friend about my new job and how happy I am in it describing my day, my friend said “it’s normal but you were treated like a slave for the past 3 years so what is typical and professional for others seems odd to you coming from your old job.”  It then dawned on me that I had really experienced what many say a sheltered work shop is – working in sub-standard conditions, doing the same task over and over and over with no ability for advancement or progress.  One difference though is that I was paid well for my job – but then money isn’t everything.

I have to say though that “sheltered workshops” are not all like what many believe they are.  They are not assembly line jobs with the person doing the same task hour after hour and day after day with no opportunities to try new things or to experience pride in their work or to earn good wages.  Many operate as supported employment – developing the skills that each individual shows potential in.

I know my experience is very different than that of people who have ID and do not have appropriate or adequate supports or have choice in what they may or may not do or where they may choose to work but it did give a glimpse into the process of pushing people down into holes where they do not fit and not allowing them to learn, grow and contribute and be a productive part of the team.