Council Votes to Eliminate Subminimum Wage

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s (Citywide – Pos. 8) first piece of labor policy passed with a vote of 8-0 by the Seattle City Council, codifying the City’s commitment to eliminate a subminimum wage for workers with disabilities. C.B. 119220 ends the archaic practice of allowing people with disabilities to be paid a subminimum wage, and codifies the City’s recent department policy ensuring all workers can earn at least the City’s minimum wage.

“Today, by voting to eliminate the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities, we strengthen our City’s belief that all work has dignity and that all workers should be able to earn at least the minimum wage,” said Councilmember Mosqueda. “It’s already challenging to make ends meet for low-wage workers living and working in Seattle, and even more so if one is not afforded the right to earn at least the City’s minimum wage.”

Seattle becomes the first city to eliminate a subminimum wage for people with disabilities, and follows the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maryland that have passed similar policies banning special wage certificates for disabled workers.

The subminimum wage provision originally passed at the federal level in the 1930s with the intent to create sheltered employment at a subminimum wage to train people with disabilities for other jobs. However, as noted in public testimony last week by the National Federation for the Blind, studies show that, unfortunately, workers end up staying in these subminimum wage jobs for years, even decades. Because of this experience, the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities along with Disability Rights WA and the National Federation for the Blind Washington Chapter, requested the City stop the use of a special certificates that permitted people with disabilities to be paid less than the minimum wage.

“Today’s legislation comes directly from the work of disabled activists to demand a more equitable society. I’m thrilled that we’ve taken this step into the future together and hope that we will remain at the forefront of disability justice,” said Shaun Bickley, Co-Chair, Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities.

“Today’s vote is an important step to signal that people with disabilities should have an equal opportunity to be a part of the community,” said Susan Kas, Director of Community Inclusion & Services Program, Disability Rights Washington.

The elimination of the subminimum wage is a continuation of policy started by Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle) and the Office of Labor Standards last year. The Office of Labor Standards issued a Director’s rule last year eliminating the ability to issue certificates for a subminimum wage under administrative rules. But it wasn’t the law – until today.