On Sunday, August 18, Justin Salisbury will present a Social Justice forum on the practice of excluding workers with disabilities from minimum wage protections, a practice that is legal in in Hawaii as well as a number of other states. The event will be in The Manger, from 9:15 am to 10:15 am. This is the issue:
“Made in Hawaii” sometimes means that the product was made in a local sweatshop full of workers with disabilities. For most Americans, if they go to work in a job, there is a minimum-wage protection available. Workers with disabilities, including senior citizens, are exempt from this protection in most states. Established in 1938, this practice was initially intended to create opportunities for workers with disabilities to enter the workforce. Unfortunately, it has done the opposite, relegating many workers with disabilities to segregated workshops, where they can earn as little as a fraction of a penny per hour.
These segregated workshops perpetuate the misperception that workers with disabilities cannot compete in the mainstream workforce. These workshops try to brand themselves as charitable organizations, and they are gorged with grants, donations, and Medicaid dollars while they enjoy priority for government contracts. They have almost no labor costs for the workers with disabilities, since they barely pay them, and the taxpayers fund the workers’ living expenses through welfare programs. The directors of the workshops earn six- and seven-figure salaries while the workers with disabilities remain wards of the government programs, never experiencing the freedom of choice and first-class status
People with disabilities have organized in their quest for equal rights, in organizations like the National Federation of the Blind and the National Down Syndrome Society, asking to face the same risks and rewards as everyone else. The states which include workers with disabilities in the minimum-wage protections do not experience higher unemployment rates for workers with disabilities.