Advocates push to end subminimum wage for Minnesotans with disabilities

Every day, thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities go to work and, chances are, they are earning less than minimum wage. It’s a legal practice that has been in the books for decades but right now, there is a push to pay those with disabilities more.

Twenty-eight-year-old Josh Brady has cognitive delays. He’s also been blind since birth. A year ago, he accepted his first job at a Pizza Hut in Hopkins.

"What they did is that they carved out a position where he will bag bone in and regular boneless wings," said Josh's mom, Kathryn Brady.

Josh works two days a week for about three hours. He earns $11.55 an hour, which is above minimum wage, and far beyond the subminimum wage typically paid to people with disabilities.

"At the subminimum wages, they’re really based off of what they’re able to produce an hour. So, in many cases that’s just cents on the hour," said Kathryn Brady.

"I can’t imagine the stress of making a wage that’s based on just how quickly you work. It’s not a right fit for us," said Kathryn in an interview with FOX 9 from west metro suburban home.

The subminimum wage has been a legal practice in Minnesota for more than 80 years. According to a recent legislative report, more than 4,000 Minnesotans with disabilities earn less than minimum wage. Right now, there's a movement to end it.

"In our opinion, this is really an issue of civil rights and dignity," said Susan Fleurant, an attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. She testified before a group of lawmakers on the issue in March. "If a worker with disabilities in Minnesota is working, they should be entitled to the same minimum wage protections as anyone else."

But opponents argue ending the subminimum wage could drive potential employers away. "We hear those concerns, those are very real concerns," said Fleurant.

Josh recently went before members of the Minnesota legislature to share his story.

"I had a hard time finding a job. I like working at Pizza Hut. I like being part of their team. I am blind, but I am a lot of other things. People with disabilities can do a lot," said Josh.

"It’s really, I think teaching Josh the whole part of working hard, you get paid, it’s part of the American dream right?," said Kathryn.

The bill to end subminimum wage is working its way through the legislature right now. Most day programs participate in the subminimum wage model.

Josh's mom says that if you have a loved one with a disability, and that person wants to be part of the workforce, you should communicate that with your county social worker for additional services, despite being part of a day program.