The good intentions of lawmakers – from Congress to capitals in states as diverse politically as Texas and Washington – have paved a road to workplace hell for many of this nation’s disabled workers, and they put Ray County’s disabled workers at risk.
Good intentions are found in these facts: Many disabled workers are paid much less than the minimum wage, less pay seems to violate their civil right to equal pay for equal work and providing the minimum wage could help move some of the disabled off the public payroll, making them more self-sufficient.
The U.S. House liked the fairness of equal pay so well that the majority voted to end the “subminimum wage” for disabled workers. Members passed the measure as part of the Raise the Wage Act, which would increase minimum pay for workers across the nation – the disabled included – to $15 per hour. Approval from the Senate and president are needed before the bill can become law.
Several states have decided not to wait for Washington, D.C., to act. Those states already pay the disabled the minimum wage. This may sound like wonderful news for the disabled. But the devil is not just in the details. He sits smirking in plain sight, in the form of all-too-real, nakedly hideous results for most disabled workers.
Equal pay rules take jobs from many disabled workers. Here is why: In workshops, the disabled work at their own pace, with supervisory help. They may be paid, for example, 10 percent or less of what “able” people are paid. The low pay rate recognizes the reality that an able worker may work 10 times or more faster than a disabled worker.
After Washington state required paying everyone minimum wage, private employers stopped using workshops. Instead, employers now hire only those people able to do $15 worth of work in one hour, rather than pay the disabled $150 to do the same amount of work in 10 hours. Predictably, Washington’s sheltered workshops closed.
What happened to all of those disabled workers who had a place to work, to earn a little money, to contribute to society, to socialize with friends? A parent there, Buz Humphrey, told The Richmond News they do what other jobless people do: sit at home and watch television. Employers do not call with job offers.
This failed social experiment could happen in Missouri, including at Ideal Industies Inc., Richmond.
Missourians should tell their lawmakers – from D.C. to Jefferson City – to reject the minimum wage for workshop workers. The idea sounds fair, but for most disabled workers and their families, minimum wage is a living hell.