Oh…. I’m so betwixt and between about the topic of minimum wage. I just read a blog where the writer did not agree with the justification of minimum wage for the disabled. Specifically, she discovered that Goodwill pays 22 cents an hour. There are aspects of her post that I agree. But to be honest, this is not a black and white issue. When you dig a little deeper, you start to see the gray areas.
My daughter works in an occupational training center (OTC) and she is paid by the piece. You will find a wide spectrum of abilities with the adults who work there. This is a place where someone begins to learn basic skills. As skills and independence grow, there is opportunity for these men and women to work outside of the OTC. However, not everyone is going to be able to make this transition. Jessie gets jobs that fit her skill set. In the case of my daughter, it was by the good grace of this OTC to even accept her in their program. They did this because they felt that she was capable of more than what would be expected of her in an adult day care setting. However, the reality was that she didn’t have enough skills to be in the OTC. The reasons for this are many. Jess could not sit still, was highly distractible and she was not a good worker. She had no skills. Over the course of the year, she went from “sitting and observing” to being part of an assembly line which produced over 200 pieces of product.
For the first six-months, Jess had a buddy who shadowed her. When Jess had been in school, she only had ten or eleven other people to interact with. At the OTC, they break down into smaller work stations, but there can be upwards of 150 people on the floor. This is a huge adjustment.
This environment allowed her to grow by being with her peers. If she did something that was not socially acceptable, they didn’t mince words and would tell her so. Jess started to be more aware of her actions. She also studied other people and was drawn to those that had more skills. Isn’t this what we all do when we are trying to fit in? Isn’t this what we do when we are trying to learn?
When I worked in a hotel kitchen, there were times in the shift that we would get smashed, meaning 40 guests just walked in. We had to make sure the food came out fast, was presented well and portions were consistent. Sometimes either the chef would step in or he would pull another cook to help manage this rush. Oh how I dreaded when the only available set of hands was Ron who was known as “the slowest man from Nantucket”. On a good day, he couldn’t keep up. Yet, he made the same wage as I did. Eventually, I was put in charge of this kitchen and did get a higher wage. Ron just couldn’t handle the pressure and he did not have a disability.
For my daughter, I want her to be in an environment where she can improve her skills and work towards independence. It is so easy for people to be idealistic when they have not experienced a well run OTC, therefore, not realize what the true benefits are. If it weren’t for this organization, my daughter would be in an adult day care program.
It is hard enough to find a job much less expect a small business to hire a person that needs supports in order to do the job. This fulfillment work is not about having companies take advantage of a low wage, but it is a building block for the disabled person. Some adults may find that this is the best environment for them. Others will develop the skills and confidence to move on. Typically, the companies that use the OTC are small start ups. If they are fortunate, they will grow their company to a point where they will need to find another resource to keep up with demand.
I realize the trend is to have “everyone” out of an OTC environment and to work in the community, but after living this experience, I feel that this is not realistic. Unless a person can do the job with attention to detail and completed in a timely manner, they aren’t ready for a minimum wage job. I only want my daughter to be in a work environment where she can succeed and be an appreciated employee. She needs to earn the wage without having it given to her. For now, the OTC is doing what it was meant to do. They are providing an environment that fosters growth.
If you indeed force Goodwill or an OTC to change their model and require them to pay minimum wage, be prepared for the fallout. Unless other simultaneously changes are made, such as the amount a person is allowed to make before they lose their services that the government does provide, you will be creating a new set of problems and no one will be served.
As a society, we get paid based on what the market determines our skills sets are worth. This is not the same thing as what our value is as a human being. Personally, I don’t think teachers are worth less than movie actors, but it is our society that placed their value.