Unintended consequences possible from ban on sub-minimum wage for disabled workers

SEATTLE — Seattle has become the first city in the nation to ban the sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities, and even more surprising -- the largest single employer of people with disabilities is the government of Seattle.

Receptionist Elsa Nakahara is one of those city workers.  Disabled people who work for the city have always made at least the minimum wage -- but private businesses have been free to pay as little as 20 cents an hour.

“I want to see all of the people with disabilities be treated fair, you know,” Nakahara said

Developmentally disabled city workers joined Mayor Durkan when she signed legislation banning the sub-minimum wage for disabled employees.

“I absolutely love my job and the people that I work around, it's amazing. It's just if I didn't have a job like this, I don't know where I would be, because it means so much to me,” Newcombe said.

Shaun Bickley co-chairs the city's commission for people with disabilities.

“If something is good enough for non-disabled people it should be good enough for the rest of us as well,” Bickley said.

But Buz Humphrey has a different perspective. His son Matt is a 43-year-old with Down syndrome. He loves to work.

“The social interaction, I think. Getting out of the house, working with his hands and I think feeling productive,” he said.

Humphrey says Matt's a good worker but only at very simple, repetitive tasks that don't justify the full $11 to $15-an-hour minimum wage.

“The unintended consequence is that the handicapped, the disabled are not going to be given an employment opportunity,” Humphrey said.

It's a question we asked the mayor.

“We've looked at that carefully,” Mayor Durkan said. "A lot of people were concerned about that, but we know, for example, that the contributions that people make are valued contributions and they deserve to be paid at least the minimum wage.”

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