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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Sample Subminimum Wage Talking Points from Paraquad!

The City of St. Louis has quickly become a flash point in the disability rights movement’s ongoing effort to eliminate subminimum wages for people with disabilities. On August 28th the Board of Aldermen passed a local minimum wage bill (bb83) that gradually increases the minimum wage to $11 / hour in 2018. The historic part of the bill was the lack of exemption for sheltered workshops. People with disabilities and their allies have let the Alderpersons know that they believe people with disabilities should enjoy the same rights and protections as any other American worker and should be paid at least minimum wage. 

Paraquad Logo - The Disability ExpertsA bill, filed yesterday (bb173), would reinstate the exemption for sheltered workshops and allow the practice of paying workers with disabilities subminimum wage to continue in St. Louis.

Advocates there are asking for your help. A list of Twitter handles for the Aldermen and Mayor of St. Louis is available below.

Civil Rights:

  • Systemic wage discrimination on the basis of disability status should end.
  • No other minatory group is exempt from fair labor laws purely by virtue of their minority status be it race, sexual orientation, gender, circumstances of birth, or any other identity which an individual brings to the workplace. 

“People with disabilities have had to battle against centuries of biased assumptions, harmful stereotypes, and irrational fears. The stigmatization of disability resulted in the social and economic marginalization of generations of Americans with disabilities, and like many other oppressed minorities, left people with disabilities in a severe state of impoverishment for centuries.” [Source]

“Two pieces of New Deal legislation, codified federal discrimination against disabled people. The Social Security Act of August 1935 specifically defined “disability” as “inability to engage in substantial gainful work,” thus precluding anyone receiving any disability insurance from obtaining employment. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established a national minimum wage, exempted workers with disabilities from the law’s coverage, thus giving official sanction to the common practice of employing disabled people in “sheltered workshops” where they were paid a mere pittance for their labor.” [Source]


  • This minority group, people with disabilities, experiences more than double the poverty rate (28.4 percent) of those without disabilities (12.4 percent), while having household incomes that are barely three-fifths (61.6 percent) of their counterparts without disabilities.
  • People with disabilities are the most poverty stricken minority group in America. The policy of allowing them to be paid less than minimum wage has kept people poor and eliminated a path to economic self-sufficiency and security for this minority population.

State and Federal moves away from subminimum wage:

  • New Federal Legislation: Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act steers people away from subminimum wage jobs. The bill emphasizes the creation of career pathway programs, improved integration and coordination of education and training services, development of sector based strategies, and streamlined service delivery to individuals, especially for underprepared youth and adults.
  • In addition, the WIOA significantly limits placements at sheltered workshops and other work environments where people with disabilities earn less than minimum wage. Individuals with disabilities age 24 and younger will no longer be allowed to work for less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour unless they first receive pre-employment transition services at school and try vocational rehabilitation services.
  • Federal legislation: TIME Act

Other parts of the country that have transitioned away from segregated settings and subminimum wage.

  • Vermont gave a phase out period of four years and inspired H.R. 188 which hopes to phase out section 14 (C) of the FLSA in three years.
  • Last year President Obama signed executive order 13658 ensuring people with disabilities 10.10 / hour for federally contracted work.
  • The Civil Rights Division of the federal Department of Justice took Rhode Island to court and this spring secured a settlement that will overhaul that state’s sheltered workshops. Other states, including New York and Oregon, have chosen to phase out the workshops completely without waiting to be sued.
  • Kansas
  • New Jersey (PDF)
  • Oregon (PDF)

We can require minimum wage locally:

Federal Regulations: 29 U.S. Code § 218 – Relation to other laws

(a) No provision of this chapter or of any order thereunder shall excuse noncompliance with any Federal or State law or municipal ordinance establishing a minimum wage higher than the minimum wage established under this chapter or a maximum work week lower than the maximum workweek established under this chapter, and no provision of this chapter relating to the employment of child labor shall justify noncompliance with any Federal or State law or municipal ordinance establishing a higher standard than the standard established under this chapter. No provision of this chapter shall justify any employer in reducing a wage paid by him which is in excess of the applicable minimum wage under this chapter, or justify any employer in increasing hours of employment maintained by him which are shorter than the maximum hours applicable under this chapter. [Source]

People will not lose benefits:

State and Federal programs exist to allow workers with disabilities to earn money and continue to access necessary supports and services.

  • Missouri has a Medicaid Buy-In program that allows people to earn 30K+ and pay a premium for Medicaid.
  • Federal Ticket to Work
  • 1619B allows individuals with disabilities to earn money and still receive benefits.

Tweet to Aldermen and St. Louis Mayor at:

  • Antonio French  @AntonioFrench
  • Chris Carter @ChrisCarter3
  • Scott Ogilvie @Ward24stl
  • Cara Spencer @CaraSpencerSTL
  • Shane Cohn @shanecohn
  • Megan Green @MeganEllyia
  • Christine Ingrassia @chryssi
  • Stephen Conway @Aldconway
  • Jack Cotar @jcotar
  • Lyda Drewson @LydaKrewson
  • JefferyBoyed @jeffreyboyed
  • Joe Vaccaro @aldermanjoe
  • Tammika Hubbard @citizens4hubb
  • Carol Howard @Alderman14
  • Dionne Flowers @2ndwardflowers
  • Donna Baringer @udmcb
  • Mayor Francis Slay @MayorSlay


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