Sheltered Workshops: Exploitation or Effective Programming?

 In #zerobarriers, Why is this still a thing Wednesday
Two co-workers at Canterbury Enterprises happily pose for a picture.

Two co-workers at Canterbury Enterprises happily pose for a picture. Photo credit: Canterbury Enterprises

We are all aware of the practice of paying workers sub-minimum wage right? Well, in 1938 Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act.  This was meant to encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities and foster growth and independence.  Unfortunately, what often happens is workshops use this reliable labor pool to fulfill contracts for billion dollar companies. We shed light on this in 2013 and it’s still a thing today.

Lowest bidder

What happens in some cases is a large manufacturing company like 3M, for example has a labor heavy job, so they outsource it to the lowest bidder.  Who do you think the lowest bidder is? Right again. I wanted to share an example with you by showing you this marketing video from Canterbury Enterprises.  Notice in the video how they stress ‘high volume’ multiple times? One thing they do not stress is wages. They do, however, mention that it is ‘by the piece rate’ meaning that people are paid based on what they accomplish. Meanwhile, out in the community, someone without a disability can earn minimum wage regardless of how much they complete. Check out this article on VOX.

 Not for everyone

Don’t get me wrong. Working is not for everyone.  One thing sheltered workshops do is provide programming and peer interaction for people who may otherwise sit at home secluded. This is a big concern for many parents who feel the workshop is best for their loved ones.  Eliminating sub-minimum wage may be a good thing for some, but for others, it could be devastating.  Workshops are often secluded, and do not pay near a living wage, but they do provide valuable peer interactions and social environments that some thrive in.

How much for dignity?

I want to leave you with a trailer for the documentary Bottom Dollars.  It is available to watch for free by the chapter on You-tube   and also free with a subscription to Amazon Prime. I will share the trailer here.  To be fair, not all sheltered workshops have large contracts with billion dollar companies.  But some do. And they pay very, very little to those who fulfill those contracts.  Additionally, some workshops are in rural settings with minimal opportunities for job seekers.  But for every small, rural workshop, there are many more in urban settings with opportunities abound.  There needs to be more focus and funding aimed at training and assisting people with disabilities to find meaningful, sustainable employment and take the next step towards living a more independent life. Because it would benefit everyone.

 

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