Charlotte, NC
Informing and Connecting Engaged Citizens
North Carolina
April 30, 2014
Disabled North Carolinians Seek Wage Equity

The Fair Labor Standards Act, adopted in 1938, and which created the minimum wage, allows employers to pay a subminimum wage to workers with disabilities. Today in North Carolina, thousands of workers with disabilities are paid less than the minimum wage, and sometimes pennies an hour. The rationale for inclusion of this section of the law was that the reduced wage was an incentive to employers to hire workers with disabilities. Those who defend this system today make a similar argument: this is the only way that some people will be able to get jobs at all.

The subminimum wage may seem like a vestige of a less enlightened time, but it’s consistent with a persistent view of people with disabilities as being on the margins of society. Inherent in this view is the assumptions that people with disabilities don’t have ordinary lives, and should be willing to accept an unequal share of human dignity.

At Disability Rights NC’s recent Disability Advocacy Conference, our keynote speaker told a story that provides a metaphor for the experiences of people with disabilities: Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley was at the head table of an event, preparing to make a speech. He asked the waiter who was placing a pat of butter at each setting for an extra one. The waiter said no. Senator Bradley said, “Maybe you don’t know who I am.” He explained he was a former professional basketball champion, former U.S. Senator, and a Presidential candidate. The waiter replied, “Maybe you don’t know who I am.” Bradley admitted that he didn’t. The waiter replied “I’m the guy in charge of the butter.”

So it is with many people with disabilities, our speaker concluded: at the mercy of those in charge of the metaphorical butter – a living wage, a driver’s license, access to treatment, a means to survive.

As has been true with other civil rights movements, changing the culture will take time. In the meantime, Disability Rights NC will continue to use legal advocacy to level the playing field so our clients can take back reasonable and ordinary control of their lives.

See link to full article below.
NC Policy Watch
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