Voter approval of the state’s first minimum wage filled us with trepidation even before the revelation that Proposition 202’s language did not exempt “sheltered workshops,” where developmentally disabled workers are paid subminimum wages for work they can’t perform at the same pace as a nondisabled counterpart.
These workshops, the largest in the state of which is operated by Mesa’s Marc Center, allow these people to reduce their dependence on their families and the welfare state while taking menial jobs that might otherwise be difficult to fill.
So we were heartened to read Sarah N. Lynch’s Tribune article last week that the Marc Center broke ground for an expansion that will almost double the capacity of its vocational program, to 500 clients, who can join the work force as a result.
Politicians and other government officials appear to be working together effectively in the people’s favor this time around, while eliminating the need to go to the ballot with yet another proposition.
The state Industrial Commission issued a “substantial policy statement” in March redefining who is considered an employee in Arizona, permitting them to be paid less than the state’s $6.75 required wage. The Legislature has been working on a strike-all amendment which would indemnify these workshops against being sued for not paying minimum wage during the two months between Prop. 202’s effective date and the industrial commission’s ruling.
This expands the rights of individuals who want to work but are unable to perform at a level where it would be profitable to pay them the market wage, and of employers wanting to provide such opportunities without bankrupting themselves in the process.
Some advocates oppose any minimum wage exemption for disabled workers, contending the exception violates their rights, further isolates them and give workshops an incentive not to “mainstream” the most productive workers.
But these lower wages are clearly designed to give severely disabled adults a chance to help support themselves and society as a whole, and as such hardly violate anyone’s rights.
Participation in the Marc Center’s vocational program has grown by 400 percent over the past decade, as P.F. Chang’s and other high-profile employers take advantage of it, for everyone’s benefit.
This program is just one of many crucial services provided by this agency, which today is opening a $1 million Village Program and Outpatient Clinic near Southern and Greenfield roads, providing counseling and life skills training to clients with behavioral health issues.
Since 1957 the Marc Center has helped thousands of mentally disabled people lead full, happy, productive lives, when the odds have been stacked against them. We’re thankful for the steps being taken to help them continue to do just that.