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Access Living Advocacy Alert
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Access Living Advocacy Alert

Access Living  | Published on 7/23/2019
Dear Access Living friends and allies,
 
First, a bad thing happened. Outrage was instantaneous. The bad thing was reversed. Investigations are called for. But what's REALLY going on?
 
This week, Land of Lincoln Goodwill, based in the Springfield, Illinois area, announced that it planned to cut 25 workers with disabilities from its payroll due to the State of Illinois' phase-in of the $15 minimum wage. See the original news story from WCIA at this link.
 
There were so many things wrong going on. Namely, a bunch of badness was at play. Consider the following.
 
1) The Illinois $15 minimum wage is being phased in through 2025. It's hardly an immediate threat.
 
2) Land of Lincoln Goodwill is a nonprofit and relies on donations. So its inventory is free. And it has state contracts.
 
3) Its top executive makes over $160,000 a year.
 
4) More than half of the existing workers with disabilities make less than minimum wage because this Goodwill has a federal certificate allowing them to do so.
 
5) The CEO originally claimed that what the workers with disabilities do isn't really...work.
 
6) Nationally, Goodwill has had a long history of employment segregation and paying people less than minimum wage. Not all Goodwills do this, but enough do that it's a systemic problem. Read more here. They are not alone.
 
After public backlash, including from the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living and state legislators, the CEO reversed her decision. Here's the story with the update. State Senator Andy Manar and other elected officials are calling for an investigation into why the executive team makes so much money. Really, nonprofits should not be exploiting people with disabilities, right?
 
But advocates are missing a core problem here. The executive decision making was bad enough, but what's really going on for workers with disabilities?
 
Many in the disability community have long called for an end to the practice of paying workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. And, there are thousands of workers with disabilities who WANT to work but can't get jobs. Plus, there is a deep prejudice against seeing people with intellectual/developmental and other disabilities as workers who deserve to be paid on par with non disabled workers. THIS is what lawmakers and labor advocates should be looking at. Why is it so difficult to invest in the careers and self sufficiency of people with disabilities?
 
Some lawmakers are already on it. State Representative Theresa Mah is the lead sponsor of theDignity in Pay Act, which is legislation that would phase out the subminimum wage in Illinois. In Congress, this year we have seen the introduction of the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act by Congressman Bobby Scott. We at Access Living strongly urge advocates to support these efforts, and to talk about ways to support shifting to fair wages for all and business models that support community integration, not segregation.
 
So basically: why is the public dialogue ignoring the injustice of segregated and subminimum wage employment? Why is it ignoring that people with disabilities are far less likely to actually be employed than non-disabled people? Labor justice is not just about how much the CEOs make. It's about making sure all of us are treated fairly in our communities, where we want to live, with work that we can do every day as a valued member of a team.
 
We call on the media, advocates and Illinois lawmakers to fight to support real justice and opportunities for workers with disabilities. This crisis calls on all of us to reframe how we think about disability and employment.
 
Amber Smock
Director of Advocacy, Access Living
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