Howdy readers. Last week I was able to attend the National Federation of the Blind’s National Convention in Orlando Florida (NFB 2016). This convention is a gathering of over two-thousand blind people all with different backgrounds, from Stanford and Harvard Law graduates, to factory workers. I was introduced to so many brilliant people and was told so many different stories.
During NFB 2016, one of these stories came in the form of panels that were being held, and one panel I attended was on blind factory workers. As a millennial who faces job offers that pay non-liveable wages, I find the minimum wage to be extremely dehumanizing; so when I got to this panel I was horrified — going into it I thought they would be discussing unionization of factory workers, but I found out these factory workers were trying to organize not because they were getting paid minimum wage and deserved more, but rather to have a support group and a think tank for people who were being paid sub-minimum wage. Sub-minimum wage is defined as a wage that is lower than the established minimum wage. Up until this point in my life the only position I knew about that got paid this were servers, but I knew that chain restaurants were required to pay them minimum wage if servers didn’t make enough in tips. During this session I heard a story about a man who was a victim of this cruel and usual treatment, he was involved in a lawsuit and all he was seeking was minimum wage.
As somebody who likes to believe he is socially aware, my stomach turned when I became aware of “Section 14(c) of the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) which authorizes employers, after receiving a certificate from the Wage and Hour Division, to pay sub-minimum wages – wages less than the Federal minimum wage – to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed” (Department of Labor). How on earth were there people getting paid to do work for as little as 20 cents per hour? If you think this is uncommon, Forbes ran a piece where they showed that Goodwill Industries commonly known as Goodwill (the thrift shop), a company who “call themselves leaders in providing opportunity for the disabled” allows this practice in their franchises; one of these franchises wanted to pay a blind woman in Montana just $2.75 an hour.
Proponents of the law argue that this is fair because at least it gives the disabled employee a sense of giving back to the community. I argue that is bull. We need to address an issue and clear something up quick: if we continue to think blindness limits a person’s worth and ability, we are seriously mistaken. Blindness doesn’t define a person, or their skill set. Paying them sub-minimum wage encourages blind people to believe they are broken, when in reality, the people who think it’s okay to treat another human this way, for something the person can’t control, are the ones who need fixing.