The St. Louis Board of Aldermen exempted sheltered workshops from its new minimum wage law.
When the board passed legislation that is to gradually raise the city’s minimum wage to $11 an hour, they didn’t leave out sheltered workshops. Those facilities provide employment opportunities to people with developmental disabilities and often pay less than the minimum wage.
Alderman Scott Ogilvie’s bill would exempt the workshops from the new law, which is set to raise the city’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour on Oct. 15. He said his bill was needed to protect the city’s four sheltered workshops from turmoil.
“We could have a situation where very soon, 375 people who today have jobs may not have jobs in the coming months,” Ogilvie said. “I believe this very strongly, that was not the intent of passing a minimum wage law for the city. The intent was to help people. And we don’t change the bill, we’re going to be hurting people rather than helping people.”
Ogilvie’s bill received initial approval by a 21-5 margin. The board then took a procedural step of fast-tracking the 24th Ward Democrat’s legislation to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s desk by a 22-4 vote.
Even though Ogilvie’s bill passed easily, it still faced at-times passionate opposition. During a committee hearing, several officials with the disabled rights organization Paraquad contended it was unfair to not pay disabled workers full wages for their work.
Alderman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, put forward a substitute bill aiming to phasing in the new minimum wage for sheltered workshops more gradually. But that measure failed by a 7-19 margin.
Alderman Megan Green, D-15th Ward, said she felt like the board “was going backward” with Ogilvie’s bill. She went on to say that “instead of getting all of the stakeholders around the table and having an informed conversation about what a compromise could be, it just completely put us back to square one.”
“I think there’s some misconceptions out there about some of the people who work in sheltered workshops,” said Green, who noted she has a constituent who has cerebral palsy with a child who works in one. “She is self sufficient. She is trying to support herself on her own. And is making $3.50 an hour. It’s very hard for her to do that even with entitlement programs that do support her.”
Ogilvie, however, noted that some families whose children are in sheltered workshops urged aldermen to approve his bill. He said that should speak volumes.
“We should make sure that sheltered workshops can continue to operate, because they’re providing vital services to our residents,” Ogilvie said. “And the [minimum wage bill] missed the mark, because it created a scenario locally where we passed a law that’s hurting people – not helping people.”
French issues a warning to Slay
Near the end of the meeting, Alderman Antonio French issued a stern warning to Slay about city funding for a riverfront stadium.
Aldermen are expected to begin debate soon over the city’s portion of funding for the roughly $1 billion facility. It’s an issue that St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said could divide the board – especially since an ordinance requiring a citywide vote for stadium funding was struck down.
After talking about a spike in violent crime throughout St. Louis, French, D-21st Ward, said that if Slay didn’t provide a “comprehensive plan” to fight crime throughout the city, he and others would try to block any stadium funding legislation.
“If the mayor’s office does not give us a comprehensive plan and does not sit down with us to work out a satisfactory, comprehensive plan to deal priority one in this crisis that’s killing so many people on our streets, then we will use every measure possible to stop that stadium funding from happening down here,” French said.
French added he and others would use “every parliamentary procedure” to stop the stadium bill if the mayor doesn’t provide a “comprehensive plan.”
“If I have to filibuster until I don’t have any breath left in my lungs, that’s what we’ll do,” French said. “Because the only way we’re going to get action on what is priority for us is to effect the mayor’s priorities.”
In response to French’s comments, Slay’s chief of staff Mary Ellen Ponder provided this statement:
The City has taken a comprehensive approach to crime fighting for 14 years, aiming to prevent crime through bolstering quality education options, creating jobs, providing job training and opportunities, and tackling neighborhood conditions that can contribute to criminal behavior; intervening in people's lives who may be on the wrong path through diversion programs, community service, and alternative schooling; enforcing laws that we have and strengthening those that will protect the pubic; and helping people to reenter our community after they are released from jail or prison so that they receive the wrap-around services they need to make it less likely that they re-offend.
Having said that, we want to make it easy for people to know exactly what current programs exist and what other plans are in place for reducing violence. We need all hands on deck. All ideas are welcome and encouraged. This is a living document that incorporates public input that you will see expand over the coming weeks.
There are too many shootings, too many deaths. Politicizing crime won't make anyone any safer. The best way to fight crime is for everyone to be united against criminals.