I’m not sure how familiar everyone is on sheltered workshops. Simply put, sheltered workshops are a supervised workplace for adults with intellectual disabilities, where the are trained and employed separately from everyone else. People who work in sheltered workshops are typically paid well below minimum wage.
The disability community seemed to be divided on whether sheltered workshops should all close down and then there are those who believe in sheltered workshops and would hate to see them closed down. I am not 100% sure where I stand. Here’s why:
According to some people, if sheltered workshops close down, many people with disabilities will have no where to go. They may end up up at home or in a some kind of day program. (Which isn’t necessarily bad) Daphne Pickert, who runs a disability service provider in New York, says that ending them removes an option for people who may never be ready for an outside job. She went on to say, “For some people, because of their actual diagnosis and disability, they need the support of the workshop,” she says, “And they literally cannot perform in a competitive setting.”
So I get that it gives them something to do. They have a place to go and I’m sure there are good number of them enjoy what they do at the sheltered workshop. But are they being exploited? A lot of people think so and are fighting to close down all sheltered workshops. Many states have been moving towards shutting them down. There are fewer and fewer sheltered workshops around. So where do these people go once their sheltered workshop closes down? The idea is that they’ll go through a supported employment program and eventually get a competitive employment. As mentioned before, what about those who may never be ready for employment?
If you haven’t seen this documentary called Bottom Dollars, please watch it. Here’s an excerpt from their website:
“How would you like to work for two weeks, and come out with a $6 check?” That’s the reality for almost 250,000 Americans with disabilities who are paid below the minimum wage. This film exposes this exploitative system and offers solutions to end segregation and discrimination against workers with disabilities.
Bottom Dollars exposes the exploitation of nearly 250,000 people with disabilities in the U.S. that are legally being paid less than the minimum wage, on average, less than $2 an hour. The documentary calls for the phase out of this unfair practice of sub-minimum wages and sheltered workshops, and offers solutions for fair wages and inclusive employment.
“Investigations by the National Disability Rights Network have found that hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities are being segregated and financially exploited in the workplace due to unfair and antiquated labor laws,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker. “In this important documentary, we hear in their own words how this outdated practice harms workers with disabilities and keeps them from reaching their full potential. Their stories are a reminder that we must continue working to end segregated work and the sub-minimum wage.”
“Now is the time to end this antiquated and downright insulting exception to minimum wage laws,” said David Carlson, Executive Producer of Bottom Dollars and Director of Legal Advocacy at Disability Rights Washington. “The exception was written in a bygone era, long before children with disabilities were allowed to go to school to get an education and marketable skills, long before state and federal anti-discrimination laws protected employees with disabilities from discrimination, and long before multiple state and federal programs were created to support people with disabilities secure and keep meaningful employment. Nothing short of fully repealing this exception is acceptable and I hope this film helps people see how flawed the assumptions underlying this exception are.”
The goal of Bottom Dollars is to empower advocates and policymakers to provide workers with disabilities the basic protection of a minimum wage.
The documentary features personal stories and expert interviews from around the country. Expert appearances include the National Disability Rights Network’s Senior Disability Advocacy Specialist Cheryl Bates-Harris, National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono and Director of Advocacy of the Center for Disability Rights Stephanie Woodward, among others.
“Working in an integrated setting opens up people minds about people with disabilities and what they can do,” said Le’Ron Jackson who used to work in a sheltered workshop, “For me, it has been life changing because I feel like I’m a part of society and the working American public versus when I was in the workshop, I felt like a nobody.”
http://www.rootedinrights.org/videos/employment/bottom-dollars/ You can learn more about the film using this link. Pictured above are some of the people who the film follows.
Let’s talk about Goodwill for a bit.
A Goodwill CEO who is blind makes a 6 figure salary, yet he thinks its okay to pay other individuals with disabilities working at Goodwill as low as two cents an hour wage. Their average employee with a disability makes $2.00 an hour and some as low as 2 cents an hour. Depending on what state you’re located. How is this possible if there is a minimum wage law? It’s due to a 75-year-old legal loophole where companies/nonprofits can apply for a special wage certificate. This loophole makes it perfectly legal to exploited people with disabilities through sheltered workshops.
The following excerpt was taken from this article which you should read: http://www.ocalapost.com/goodwill-taking-advantage-disabled/
“If they really do pay the CEO of Goodwill three-quarters of a million dollars, they certainly can pay me more than they’re paying,” said Harold Leigland, who is legally blind and hangs clothes at a Goodwill for less than minimum wage.
“It’s a question of civil rights,” added his wife, Sheila, blind from birth, who quit her job at the same Goodwill store when her already low wage was cut further. “I feel like a second-class citizen. And I hate it.”
Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which was passed in 1938, allows employers to obtain special minimum wage certificates from the Department of Labor. The certificates give employers the right to pay disabled workers according to their abilities, with no bottom limit to the wage.
Most, but not all, special wage certificates are held by nonprofit organizations like Goodwill who then set up their own so-called “sheltered workshops” for disabled employees, where employees typically perform manual tasks like hanging clothes or separating clothes hangers.
Supposedly some Goodwills are working to change this and a few have but overall as a whole, goodwill has some work to do. all of this is the dark side of sheltered workshops. Through my work, I have met a lot of families that have put their loved ones with disabilities in sheltered workshops and they love it. They don’t mind the pay if any, as long as their loved one has a place to go and enjoys it. I don’t know. This is where I’m torn. Overall I think that sheltered workshop are negative because our loved ones deserve a fair pay and should have the chance to get a competitive job. For those that can’t get a competitive job, we need better day programs and options. Sooo… I guess I do know where I stand.
What would I want for Joel? Honestly my parents and I sort of hit a roadblock when we discuss this. My parents are extremely fearful for his safety since he is nonverbal. I want him to go through a vocational program and get supported employment. I think he’d do okay with a job a few hours a week and when he’s not at work maybe go to a day program. My parents are leaning more towards just a day program. I still have time a few years to convince them.
Although here in Louisiana, vocational rehab doesn’t start until the last two years of high school, at home we have started our own training. The sooner we start, the more practice we get in and Joel can be more prepared for his future. Most of you know we have been teaching Joel to make soaps, candles and more at home which we then sell at art markets in New Orleans. Joel has potential and I think that most people with disabilities do if given the chance. They deserve to live a meaningful as full participants in our society.