Minnesota coalition pushes for better pay for workers with disabilities

A coalition of people with disabilities is spearheading an effort to develop a more inclusive workforce in Minnesota.
"The lowest money I made per hour was $1.85,” said Brad Teslow, who has a disability. “The highest I could make was $6.15."

As someone who has a disability, Teslow says it can be hard to find a job that pays a decent wage. He hopes a bill introduced at the state Capitol could change that in the future.

"We should be paid like regular folks who are in the regular work force," said Teslow.

Since the late ‘30s, state and federal laws allow employers to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage. The intent was to get more people with disabilities into the workforce, but some disabled rights advocates say it has resulted in those workers being stuck in low paying jobs where they can't make enough to actually live on.

"Currently in Minnesota there are about 12,000 people who work in what are called 'sheltered workshops,'” said Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights). “Where they can receive wages as low as 50 cents an hour. This is really about equity and ensuring that people are getting paid fairly for the work they do."

Co-chair of the 4 Cents an Hour Coalition Noah McCourt, who has autism, says the new bill would create a task force to come up with a plan to phase out the sub-minimum wage for all workers with disabilities by 2024. The bill would also create individualized plans to help people with disabilities to get training and match them with better jobs.

"Minnesota ranks no. 1 in the country as far as the use of the subminimum wage,” said McCourt. “We really feel in a state where we have typically led on disability rights. This is a very important conversation to have."

Teslow says earning a fair wage is an idea whose time has come.

"It’s going to give them more independence to spend money on your sandwiches on lunch break or go out to movies or go to the Mall of America or participate in normal life," said Teslow.

Thirteen other states have passed similar legislation. This bill will get its first hearing in the house labor committee on Wednesday.