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Debate continues over paying disabled workers minimum wage in Illinois

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(The Center Square) – A move to pay workers with disabilities minimum wage in Illinois is getting resistance from the workers themselves.

The so-called “Dignity in Pay Act” in House Bill 793 would require all workers to be paid the state minimum wage over time and would phase out 14(c) exemptions. Workers with developmental disabilities have been paid less than the state’s minimum wage for years, and some Democratic lawmakers said it is time to eliminate the sub-minimum wage.

The 14(c) program has been in place since 1938. At that time, Section 14(c) provided workers with disabilities a wage floor of 75% of the federal minimum wage. In 1966, the wage floor was reduced to 50% of the federal minimum wage.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, who has been a vocal critic of the measure, was joined in Springfield by disabled workers and their families who oppose the proposal.

“We don’t want to be back here next year with this group with 70 to 80% of them not having a job,” said Meier.

Other Republicans have argued that local manufacturers and businesses hire people with developmental disabilities as a form of charity which would end after raising the subminimum wage.

“The question of equal pay is a social justice issue, and if an employee fits talent and meets the job requirements, they should be paid equal wages,” La Shawn Ford told The Center Square last November.

The bill failed to pass last year but may come up for another vote this spring.

Meier said adult day cares and day programs are expensive and the workers would lose the dignity of having a job.

“They’re proud, they’re happy, they’re proud of their paycheck,” said Meier. “They want that paycheck but a lot of them don’t cash it because they don’t want the money but they want the paycheck, they want that honor, they want that dignity.”