The Coalition for Community Living Blog


The purpose of this blog is to spread the news of an incredible and under-utilized community mental health model known as the “Fairweather Lodge.”  (The “Lodge” model, sometimes known as the “Community Lodge,” is often referred to as the “Fairweather Lodge” in reference to the late George W. Bill Fairweather, who developed the model in the early 1960s.) 


The Dignity Of Work

A Post by John K. Trepp

The Minnesota Legislature just finished their “Special Session” (What is Special” about it when they have one every year?) with the last-minute passage of a budget-bill, which includes a thousand things unrelated to the budget. And apparently, one of these things is a plan to eliminate sub-minimum wages for disabled workers.

FOR THE RECORD, I eliminated sub-minimum wages, generally,* at Tasks Unlimited around 1990. I also served on multiple committees, task-forces, etc at the State, where I consistently advocated for the elimination of sub-minimum wages within MN’s “Supported Employment” network; often the only person on these committees advocating for the elimination of sub-minimum wages, pissing off the sheltered workshop lobbyists. I am definitely not remembered as an apologist for sheltered workshops or sub-minimum wages.

* Tasks did, for a while beyond 1990, continue to pay sub-minimum wages to some short-term “trainees.”

Some of the folks behind this plan compare people with disabilities working in “sheltered workshops” for sub-minimum wages (mostly people with development disabilities, formerly known as retardation) to “slave-labor.” And they speak passionately about individuals toiling for years at less than $1/hr while they secretly plotting their “escape” (presumably from the sheltered workshop). Very dramatic, except that sheltered workshops do not have locked doors or bars on the windows, and even pre-pandemic, almost every regular employer in town is/was hiring! So, I think these folks need to watch Twelve Years a Slave” or something to refresh their understanding of “slavery.”

The other point they love to make is that Minnesota has one of the lowest rates in the country of “integrated employment” for people with disabilities (at least in part, in a small way because they refuse to recognize the incredible success of Lodge Members). But they always fail to mention that MN consistently ranks # 1 in the country in the percentage people with disabilities who are employed.

The sheltered workshop lobbyists claim, and I guess I believe them, that paying minimum wage (now $15/hr in Mpls) to people whose extreme disabilities prevent them from producing work of value is not feasible; and that sheltered workshops required to do so won’t survive.

The likely outcome is that Minnesota’s sheltered workshops will either close their doors, -- or continue operating serving only people who are capable of producing work at or close to standard levels of productivity. Either way, people with severe disabilities will all lose their employment.

As I suggested above, I am okay with that, personally, because I thinks it is time to abandon the charade that “disabled workers” whose support needs cost more than the work they produce are “employed.”

But a lot of these people are going to end up worse off than they are now. I assume that the folks behind this believe that the sheltered workshops will magically transform into some sort of “day activity programs,” where the participants will be entertained and not have to “work.” But I haven’t seen any indication of new funding for this (more, I assume, than the sheltered workshops are getting now).

And what the folks promoting this will never understand, is that People like working. I am certainly no expert on development disabilities, but I can’t believe that folks with development disabilities are fundamentally different than the rest of us regarding the satisfaction and self-esteem that they receive from working.

I know that people with mental illnesses, like the rest of us, love working. Sure, we complain about Mondays, and we complain about “the boss” (even the people who worked for me), but we liked getting paid, for the work we did, better than getting some sort of “welfare” money for doing nothing.

I know the Lodge Members do.

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