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 .

 

 

 

 

Elimination of Sub-minimum wage in Seattle

The Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities  has made a recommendation to the Seattle City Council to eliminate certificates which enable employers to pay people with specific disabilities a commensurate wage.  I know that there are discussions all across the country that are looking at issues of employment and wages for people with disabilities.

This is a quick update on this very heated discussion.  From what I can assume by the articles that I read and the correspondence I have had with at least two of the commissioners regarding this issue vie Facebook,  there has been little research or collaboration with those in our community who may be, now or in the future, affected by this proposal.

Attempts to offer insight, requests for research, transition plans and funding plans have been ignored and people who expressed concerns have been rudely and aggressively mistreated by at least one of the commissioners.

Seattle Commission for people with disabiltiies Shaun Bickley and Cindi Laws

Below is the first letter that I submitted on the Facebook page.  This led to the Facebook page administrator blocking me from further comments or reacting to any posts – and this post was removed.

I am the parent and guardian of a young adult with significant intellectual/developmental and mental health disabilities – all of a degenerative nature and I network with many other families, caregivers, guardians and people with IDD who totally disagree with the assumptions that you and others are making about those with disabilities.

Yes, the members of the commission may have disabilities but is the specific population of those with significant intellectual/developmental disabilities represented?  The population which identifies as disabled is extremely heterogeneous and we need to have choices available to ensure that all have a chance and opportunity to work. We are all very concerned regarding this issues. For many of these people who work under these certificates it’s not about making a living wage – it’s about having a job and being a member of the community, participating, sharing experiences and having daily goals and activities – basically adding meaning to their lives. 


Unfortunately, my son and others who experience some of the same types of issues he does, are not able to articulate their ideas, attend meetings, and speak in coherent sentences – even with the help of assistive technology, and so their voices are not heard. 


You do not speak for them – in fact, it is quite the opposite because you deny the people who know, love and understand them, the opportunity to provide their ideas and choices. These people are their friends, families, guardians, caregivers, coaches, case managers, co-workers. These are the people who are all better equipped to fill in and be a proxy for their voices. 


The fact that you make assumptions that you are speaking for all people with disabilities without taking into consideration those who are affected by this issue is an act of discrimination and devaluation of their personhood. 


We need these certificates to ensure choice – remember the saying “nothing about us, without us” – Please take it to heart!

Mr. Shaun Bickley, one of the commissioners, took offense with my letter, stating “”nothing about us, without us” refers to disabled people, not to parents, siblings, neighbors,  co-workers and other allies”.  He wrote that they (the commission) were all disabled and therefore can speak for all people with disabilities – whereas, guardians’ concerns are only self-serving.  He wrote that all people, even if they can just move one muscle, can make their choices known – regardless if others understand them or not.  (I am very confused by this since if others do not understand, how are their choices known?)

In looking at the members of the commission I noticed that several are lawyers, a few have PhDs and several others have a variety of advanced college degrees, one is a filmmaker and an artist,  one is a medical doctor  – I’m curious which one has an intellectual/developmental disability?  This is the question that got me blocked from the Facebook page as it was seen as using “degrading language and making people feel unsafe.”

More to come – letters have been sent to The Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, the Mayor’s office, the Office of Labor Standards and to each member on the Seattle City Council.

 

What do gardens have to do with oversight?

I love to garden and share that love with others. This is a joy that I share with my son. When he was younger and lived at home he would follow me around the yard and loved to rub his hands on the various herbs and then smell his hands.  He learned what they all were and where they were in the garden.

We currently have a plot in a community pea-patch and one of his favorite activities is sitting in the garden having a snack talking about the various plants we are growing and checking on his flowers.  Tonight we picked some of his huge sunflowers and will save the seeds for bird food in the winter.IMG_1919

Gardening, harvesting, and composting are great activities for people.  Learning skills in these areas can provide not only vocational skills but life skills, recreational skills and exercise to those with intellectual disabilities.

For a few years we had wonderful gardens growing at Fircrest.  Residents were planning meals, harvesting, preparing and sharing.  We were also learning worm composting and one resident even started selling the worms to a local garden store.  This was part of the “Active Treatment” at Fircrest and was set to expand.

With a recent survey that targeted the lack of “active treatment” and the promises of administration stating that the job training program was going to expand brought hope. The new emphasis on active treatment was promising and the news that tomato plants had arrived last April was a step in the right direction.

The hope has been shattered by the reality of the deserted and abandoned garden beds, the empty greenhouses with dead plants and the worm bins that have become garbage cans.  I have even offered several times to continue volunteering to help teach staff how to teach residents or work with residents myself but am ignored and told they are working on expanding.  From the outside it appears that things are getting worse, not better.

This is where oversight comes in.  We are told over and over that there is great oversight at the intermediate care facilities.  But oversight by who and oversight of what?

I believe that oversight should not be left  just to the state agencies but is up to each of us to keep an eye open and ask questions.  For instance, why are these garden beds abandoned and why are the few plants in the greenhouses dead?

I have asked and have offered to volunteer on campus or find a new home for the greenhouses and worm bins so that they can be used by others.  I dream of developing a learning garden in the area for people with intellectual disabilities and these would be prefect.  The answer I got was that they are not for sale and they will not lease the area to others to use.

Please look at the link  Active treatment and gardening at Fircrest.  If you have any suggestions for improvements, please let me know.  This was such a great boost for the residents and it makes me so sad to see it going to waste.

Please share this information and maybe there is some vocational training group or agency that can make something happen so that the time, talents and goods are used to their potential.

 

 

“Volunteer” Opportunity for person with Intellectual Disability – Organic Gardening

 

I am starting a program for vocational training working in organic gardening.  I currently have a small plot of land in the University District of Seattle and am looking for a person who would like to experience various aspects of gardening.

We are very lucky in Seattle in that we are able to garden all year long.  We will be looking at composting, soil building, worm bins, Orchard Mason Bees, in addition to tending the garden and donating food to the University District Food Bank and Teen Feed.

Variable times/days available and flexible.  For more information please contact me.

 

Cheryl

ddadvocacy@gmail.com