Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Aldermen Approve Exempting 'Sheltered Workshops' from Minimum Wage

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Aldermen Approve Exempting 'Sheltered Workshops' from Minimum Wage

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Nick Beauchaine works at Industrial Aid in St. Louis for $3.50 an hour.

Beauchaine, who is developmentally disabled, packages things such as "Harry Potter" books and Monster Energy drinks.

"The job means everything to him," said his mother, Lynn Beauchaine, noting that sheltered workshops such as Industrial Aid give developmentally disabled people a sense of purpose and connect them with a network of friends. "When we are at the store, he always points out the things he packaged."

On Friday, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen fast-tracked a bill to exempt workers employed by sheltered workshops from the city's pending minimum wage hike but not before aldermen debated whether developmentally disabled workers should be paid the same basic rates as everyone else. The workshops pay well below the state minimum wage of $7.65.

A large majority of aldermen took a rare step and voted 22-4 to approve the exemption Friday just minutes after perfecting the bill's language, just as they had promised more than a month ago.

The issue was part of the debate in August when aldermen approved a citywide minimum wage of $11 an hour by 2018. That measure is now being challenged in state court. The increase is set to go into force on Oct. 15, unless a judge grants a motion to block it next week.

A previous version of that bill had exempted the nonprofit workshops, which employ developmentally disabled workers, from the mandated increase. But the exemption was later removed.

To get the bill passed before a deadline, the bill's sponsors pledged to return to the exemption at a later date.

Alderman Scott Ogilvie proposed new legislation that would strike the workshops, which receive state funding, from having to comply with the wage increase.

"(This) is a critical issue for the roughly 375 individuals who are employed by sheltered workshops," Ogilvie said.

Four sheltered workshops are in the city. They provide jobs for people with developmental disabilities, giving them tasks such as packaging, putting together boxes or collating mail for businesses.

Effective pay at some of the workshops averages between $2 and $4 an hour, significantly below the city's proposed minimum of $11 an hour. …

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