Lawmakers, advocacy groups look to eliminate subminimum wage jobs for SC workers with disabilities

Only a handful states have overridden the clause in the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows subminimum wage positions

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — In South Carolina, thousands of people with disabilities can work a job and only make a fraction of the minimum wage.

This is due to a provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which makes it legal for people with disabilities who work for certain nonprofits, training centers, and sheltered workshops to make below $7.25/hour.

“Now what happens is people with disabilities stay in these training centers for years and years and years, and really all their lives and are paid literally pennies,” said Kimberly Tissot, the Executive Director of Able SC, an organization that aims to empower people with disabilities to live self-determined lives.

Several states, including Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont, have passed laws that have outlawed subminimum wage positions. California and Minnesota are among the states that don’t allow subminimum wages for tipped positions.

Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington County) says South Carolina should become the first Southeastern state to make a change.

“We really need to get on the bandwagon with this, and change it because everyone that does the same job, it should be equal, it’s just like equal pay for women, it’s equal pay for everyone. If you do the same job, you should make the same wage,” Sen. Shealy said. 

Members of the House proposed the “Employment First Initiative Act” back in January, which would make South Carolina the latest state to do away with subminimum wage.

Tissot believes changing the culture around workers with disabilities will pave the way for more people to find gainful employment.

“There is data that shows there is less turnover when you hire people with disabilities. So I think it’s a combination of training employers, helping them understand the supports for hiring people with disabilities, but also making sure the opportunities that are created for people with disabilities are equitable,” Tissot said.

The “Employment First Initiative Act”, which is sponsored by Rep. Neal Collins (R-Pickens County) Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell (D-Lancaster County), Rep. Leola Robinson (D-Greenville County), Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg County), Rep. Bill Clyburn (D-Aiken County), and Rep. Gary Clary (R-Pickens County), currently resides in the House Committee of Labor, Commerce, and Industry.

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