Minimum wage for all abilities

Minimum wage for all abilities

It’s a great idea, but it’s also complicated.

My aunt has worked at a sheltered workshop for nearly 30 years. It’s right down the road from our house, and her van picks her up and brings her home safely every day, which is automatically deducted from her check. Through the workshop, she gets meaningful work that she takes pride in, activities with her friends that she makes there, as well as activities through a local support group that she has connected to via the workshop.

She is developmentally delayed, so it’s nice to have a place where she can do all of this where we know she is safe, where she will not be required to work for more than six or six and a half hours a day. People with disabilities are often very vulnerable to abuse, even from employers, and it’s important to us that she be somewhere trained to help her in the best way possible. All of this said, my aunt works very hard only to bring home a few dollars, sometimes even less, an hour. She often makes less than $50 a week for what she does—which is akin to sweatshop labor anywhere else.

She does get state benefits, sure. But she also deserves to make minimum wage or more for the hard work she does. And let me tell you, it’s hard work; sometimes she cuts her hands on boxes or gets bruised while she moves them. She has to meet a quota every day, sometimes in silence, that is stressful for her. In our state, right now there is a bill being discussed that would guarantee her and her friends the right to a fair wage, which I fully support.

Her workshop, however, does not support the bill, and says they would close if it passed. That’s probably true, since they get their contracts for providing such cheap labor. So if the consequences would mean her having to work someplace else—perhaps somewhere that would be dangerous, or harder to find transportation for, or simply someplace different that would disrupt her routine and her comfort—I’m not sure if it’s what’s best. In the long run, it’s a great idea—but for now, what about the people used to working together? And what about their social interaction? I worry about how she might be treated if she worked in an unsheltered business setting, particularly if it’s with teenagers (as it often is for people with disabilities).

It really is a complicated issue, and ultimately I want what’s best for her and what would make her happiest. I just don’t know what that would be, and if any changes—no matter how much I support them—would result in pain or hardship if implemented.