[NFBMO] Sub-minimum Wage Article

Roger Crome r_crome1 at msn.com
Thu Mar 4 02:09:40 UTC 2021

Thanks for pointing out that there was an issue Fred.  I’m not sure where the disconnect is.  I was able to click on it successfull and it pulled up the page.  However, it doesn’t do any good to share something if folks can’t read it.  So, here’s the text of the article pasted Below.

[Subminimum wages become topic]

Joe and Amy Easter visited Washington DC a couple of years ago to lobby on behalf of sheltered workshops. Amy has been a faithful employee of MCII Sheltered Workshop in Farmington for years. Joe said, "I would walk to Washington D.C. if it would assure the federal government not destroy an excellent program" like the sheltered workshop.

submitted photo

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Sarah Haas<https://dailyjournalonline.com/users/profile/Sarah%20Haas1>

A thread on a local Facebook forum, regarding sheltered workshops and a reported plan of the Biden administration to do away with the 14(c), subminimum-wage clause of the Fair Labor Standards Act, brought out a rare, social media occurrence — a civil give-and-take with articulate points made by all sides debating the matter.

The federal, 14(c) clause that affects sheltered workshops — including Missouri Community Improvement Industries (MCII) in Farmington — has seen some changes since it was first enacted in 1938 to ensure disabled workers were paid a wage for work, most notably the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. But arguably, none of the previous changes would be as large as if the 14(c) clause was eliminated, which has been said President Joe Biden hopes to do.

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MCII employees 44 disabled workers and 13 staff members — of whom five are full-time — fulfilling contracts for such entities as HandiCraft, MoCAP, Proffer’s Produce, and the workshop won a contract to service the rest area in Bloomsdale on Interstate 55. The non-profit has a total operating budget of about $1.15 million which it uses for the facility, transportation, operations, salaries and wages among other expenses.

Ginger Williams, MCII general manager for more than 25 years, said 14(c) comes up almost every time there’s a change in administration, regardless of political party. Ultimately, she said, elimination of 14(c) would result in the elimination of more than 6,000 Missouri jobs, perhaps more than 220,000 jobs on the national level.

”The bottom line is that the disabled community deserves the right for choice. While many disabled adults choose sheltered employment, some choose to move into supported or competitive employment,” she commented on Facebook. “Often times the sheltered workshop is the tool to help someone be successful in other types of employment. Having the ability to make that choice is very important.”

She said, although their work often involves comparatively simple tasks — sorting, packaging, light assembly — it might mean three or four disabled employees taking the same time to produce what a single able-bodied employee could do, the increased wages pricing sheltered workshops out of the market, contractually speaking.

“There’s no way we’d be able to compete on price,” she said. “And the companies we do business with are wonderful, they express that they like using our services and feel like they’re doing a good thing, but I know they do have a bottom line they have to look at, too.”

Williams said she could sympathize, however, with one gentleman who had responded to the Facebook thread, expressing dissatisfaction with his sheltered workshop experience in the late 1990s.

Roger Crome of Fredericktown said, in the late 1990s, he was working in a recycling center “doing a disgusting job of sorting trash to pick out what material was recyclable…

“As boredom set in at times, I would do extra out of the box work. The grinder needed blades changed, and I knew how to dismantle the machine and put it back together…A conveyor belt motor came in that was assembled backward, and I rebuilt the motor and shortened down time by a lot. There was a minor electrical problem in the building, and I fixed the problem saving the workshop an electrician bill. I did all of this for the grand total of $1.54 per hour,” he posted.

Crome said he repeatedly asked his manager for a review of his wages, but was denied each time. “Every time, he told me that I may think I’m worth more than that, but I wasn’t,” Crome said. Crome had moved to Missouri from Indiana, where he owned and operated a restaurant inside a federal building for a number of years. When federal streamlining happened during the Clinton administration, the restaurant contract went away. Crome said he had taken the workshop position “to have something to do,” since he met with difficulty finding a local employer who would take a chance on a worker with disabilities.

Eventually, Crome said, an employee in another organization housed in the same building as the sheltered workshop saw that Crome might be a good assistant to other disabled workers, coaching and training them for competitive employment. Crome eventually began working for the Life Center for Independent Living. He said it was a great position that unfortunately was eliminated with Gov. Eric Greitens' cuts to independent living centers in 2017. Since then, he’s been busy getting his insurance brokerage company off the ground, and believes other disabled workers might be able to achieve greater heights if given the encouragement and support.

“I was lucky that someone sharing the building could look past the disability and offered me a job. I’ve experienced some roller coaster moments since obtaining community employment, but at least, I feel like I’m contributing to society and to my family’s well-being,” Crome said. “The removal of 14(c) does not shut the doors of sheltered workshops. They could still exist as non-profit entities and receive the daily per person stipend that funnels in from DESE.

“The only thing that removing 14(c) does is remove the ability to pay a person pennies for a day’s work. I’ve heard nothing about removing the deductions available based on sheltered employment. So, really, the only thing that changes is that people with disabilities become valued members of society rather than looked down on by those that think they know better. This is a positive move in the evolution of our society. I just wish that more people could see it that way.”

Crome said while he might disagree with the idea of keeping subminimum wages, he is supportive of sheltered workshops and has compassion for the families whose adult children work in them. He pointed out it’s every parent’s aspiration that their kids can find work and with it, a sense of purpose and independence. Still, he said, he hoped disabled employees were being encouraged to stretch and grow their skills, which was something he didn’t see much of when he worked at the other sheltered workshop many years ago.

Williams said in the last 20 years, workshops have experienced increased oversight and regulation on federal and state levels. She said workshops are now required to periodically review employees’ skills and productivity to ensure their wages are commensurate with their ability. Nationally, workshops receive 14(c) certification from the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. Statewide, workshops are accountable to a division of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“If a sheltered workshop employee makes the choice to leave their job to go into another means of employment, the workshop helps them with the transition. But, all too often, that leaves them with only working 1 or 2 days a week for 3 or 4 hours a day, all while struggling to find transportation to and from work,” she commented on Facebook. “Most people would not view that as a successful placement. The reality is, it’s common to have a “bad apple” in every group, but most sheltered workshops support all of their employees, including those who wish to move on.

"Those same workshops also open their arms and doors to those who decide they no longer like that choice and would like to return to their old job. It’s all about choice.”

Joe Easter, now in his 60s with a disabled daughter nearing 40, said MCII has been her preferred employment for decades. He recalled, when he worked for the now-closed Mineral Area Regional Medical Center, he told his daughter Amy that he might be able to get her a job making more money in the hospital’s cafeteria, if she was interested.

“’Why would I do that?’” he recalled her saying, “’When all my friends work at the sheltered workshop!’ She just couldn’t imagine leaving her friends behind.”

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A few years ago, Joe and Amy travelled to Washington D.C. to lobby Missouri’s federal lawmakers regarding 14(c).

“We visited (U.S. Rep.) Jason Smith, who said he had a disabled relative who worked at a sheltered workshop. We talked to a guy from the southwest part of the state who said he realized the importance of workshops, and another guy from St. Louis who also knew what 14(c) meant to the disabled,” Easter said. “It was reassuring.”

Leslie Miles of Goose Creek serves on the MCII board of directors and has a grown, disabled son living in a group home in St. Louis. She is now retired, but as an insurance representative for Gallagher and specializing in workman’s compensation insurance for workshops, she’s visited almost every sheltered workshop in the state.

“Working with the disabled is all about choice. If sheltered workshops are no longer an option then they have just lost a choice,” she said. “…I have visited virtually every workshop in Missouri and with a very few exceptions I would allow my child to work in pretty much all of them.”

She added that Missouri’s model for workshops is based on industry and is often emulated by other states.

Miles said, sadly, her 45-year-old son has some behavior issues that preclude him from working anywhere at present.

“He is not and will probably never be a candidate for supported or competitive employment no matter how much I would like that to happen,” she said. “But I’ve seen the purpose and feelings of value workshops give to disabled adults, I’ve seen the friends and family they develop among their coworkers and the staff, and it’s so important to preserve this resource, this outlet for them.”

Williams mentioned that if standard employment is sought, disabled workers and their parents or guardians should first be sure they don't stand to lose eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicaid, Section 8 or other programs that might help make life more affordable.

Tim Azinger, executive director with the LIFE Center for Independent Living in Farmington, said he also appreciates sheltered workshops’ role in helping disabled workers hone skills and experience a sense of purpose.

“Traditionally, centers for independent living are pro-competitive employment,” he said. “We’re all for people with disabilities having access to mainstream work environment. Having said that, my opinion is it’s a great starting point, a kind of entry for them to work themselves up to a more competitive position.

"I’m not a fan of subminimum wage. The model’s been around for a long time, I as a person with a disability don’t want to be paid less than minimum wage.”

Azinger acknowledged that skill sets must be taken into account while determining wage rates, but disagreed that skill sets of disabled workers should automatically be seen as deserving less than minimum wage.

“If you’re stuck in an area that doesn’t have a lot of employment opportunities out there, whether it’s expressed or not, employers never want to be seen as discriminating against people with disabilities,” he said. “But if they hide that and they’re not hiring disabled workers because they don’t think they can do a competitive job, sometimes those folks are desperately looking for jobs and they can only find employment at workshops making less than minimum wage. There’s an injustice there.”

Azinger, who uses a wheelchair, said he doesn’t want sheltered workshops to go away, but if subminimum wages are inhibiting a way to figure out a different model that would elevate disabled workers’ earning power and productivity, it could be construed as shortchanging employees and workshops.

“Sometimes the older ways the sheltered workshops are set up, they’re probably going to experience some bumps and bruises as they get pulled into the competitive world at that wage rate, but I think many will survive just fine,” he said. “I wouldn’t pretend for a moment they wouldn’t have to change their operations, bids, contracts and structure, but that’s what all of us are having to do in the world.

“Change is hard, I get it.”

Talks with Congress

Congressman Jason Smith hosted a call with leaders from Missouri Sheltered Workshops this week. During the call, attendees were able to share their concerns with President Biden’s proposal to implement a $15 Washington hourly mandate on small businesses that would have resulted in eliminating a program that allows Missourians with disabilities to find their place in the workforce.

“Sheltered workplaces are more than a job for many of these individuals,” said Rep. Jason Smith. “Sheltered Workshops are a second home and family to many Missourians with disabilities that would not otherwise have the opportunity to join the workforce. I am proud to work to ensure these workplaces will continue providing a welcoming community for so many great people.”

Earlier this year, sheltered workplaces throughout Southern Missouri contacted Congressman Smith’s office after learning that President Biden’s proposal would eliminate Section 14(c), the provision in law that allows sheltered workplaces to exist. Last week, the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that the wage hike does not meet the criteria to be included in a reconciliation package. However, Washington Democrats now plan to advance their Raise the Wage Act separately, which would eliminate employment opportunities for the disability community who do not wish, are not ready, or are not able to participate the competitive workplace.

Currently, only 35% of disabled individuals are employed in the competitive market.

Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617<tel:573-518-3617> or at shaas at dailyjournalonline.com<mailto:shaas at dailyjournalonline.com>.

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Sent from my iPhone

On Mar 3, 2021, at 7:53 PM, Fred Olver via NFBMO <nfbmo at nfbnet.org> wrote:

 You might like to know that the link you supplied unknown person was not supported page not available Fred Olver

Sent from my iPhone

On Mar 3, 2021, at 7:47 PM, Roger Crome via NFBMO <nfbmo at nfbnet.org> wrote:

Hello everyone,

I was involved in a Facebook discussion that caught the attention of the local paper.  The Assistant Editor interviewed myself and several other people in an attempt to cover all sides.  The link is below.


Sent from my iPhone
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