Sheltered Workshop Pay Compared To Sweatshop Pay
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 9, 2004
LAWRENCE, KANSAS--Few people know that, here in the United States, thousands of employees perform menial tasks -- day after day -- for just pennies an hour. Their work goes by the name of "productivity" or "piece-work".
The practice is entirely legal and tax dollars have been supporting much of it since the 1930s. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense, along with other federal, state and local agencies, provide and pay for much of the work through contracts with employment agencies.
The pay scale is called "sub-minimum wage", and the vast majority of those who receive these below-minimum wages are people with developmental disabilities.
Those who receive it are told they are lucky they to get that.
Sub-minimum wage is determined by a formula which measures how fast the average trained, "non-disabled" worker would perform a certain job or assemble a certain item. Then the worker with a disability is timed doing the same work. The speed with which that person does the work, compared to the "non-disabled" or "100 percent" worker, determines how much the worker is paid. In theory, a person with a disability who works half as quickly would receive half the pay of a "normal" worker without a disability.
It's not uncommon for a person to work 40 hours for just a few bucks.
Some advocates in Kansas, which has the lowest state minimum wage in the U.S., want to see that change.
"It has become a sweatshop kind of thing," Greg Jones, director of advocacy for an independent living center in Lawrence, told the Journal-World. "We allow this stuff to happen right here under our very nose and we call it OK."
While the federal minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, the minimum wage varies from state to state, and even from city to city. The state of Washington's minimum wage -- the highest in the country -- is $7.16 an hour. The minimum wage in Kansas is just $2.65.
Jones and other critics point out that most of the work is overseen by employment service providers that contract with governments, non-profits and commercial businesses for the "piece-work". Most of those providers also receive government funds to serve their clients -- the workers themselves.
"At the same time community service providers are selling the services of people with disabilities at a very substandard rate, these providers are bilking Medicaid waivers of Kansas a daily rate between $32 and $82.54 to keep these people out of their homes for five hours a day, as they perform demeaning tasks for little or no pay," Jones said.
Mr. Jones and others are supporting a bill in the Kansas legislature that would increase the state's minimum wage to $7.50 an hour by Jan. 1, 2007.
"Kansans with disabilities want to work and will work, but they need a fair and decent wage to make that transition attractive," said Shannon Jones, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas.
"Wages paid to disabled criticized" (Lawrence Journal-World)