Letter for Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Kauai shows the most aloha to workers with disabilities

Many people do not know this, but the state minimum wage does not protect workers with disabilities. If employers obtain special certificates from the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations under Section 387-9, Hawaii Revised Statutes, subsection (a), they can pay wages all the way down to absolute zero if the worker has a disability. The wages are based on productivity assessments, which can be only barely related to the work that the worker is doing.

It is really easy to rig a productivity assessment to highlight how disabled someone is, such as asking a worker in a wheelchair to jump rope and tallying the percentage of times they get it right. The assessments are totally unrealistic, and we end up getting exploited. The beautiful thing about Kauai County is that it is the only county that has absolutely none of these sweatshops for the disabled.

I have lived my whole life on Oahu. The public transportation here is excellent, but the attitudes toward people with disabilities still have a long way to go. I have worked for subminimum wages. In one job, I worked as a janitor, stripping and waxing floors for $1.06 per hour. It was hard physical labor, and I was tired at the end of every day. They were allowed to pay me $1.06 per hour only because I have a disability.

I also worked at a Goodwill, where I sorted the clothing donations and hung them up for customers to buy them. I also used a box cutter to break down boxes. Goodwill paid me 65 cents an hour, and the law allowed them to do it. If I lived on Kauai, nobody would be able to do that to me. I still love Oahu because it is my home, but Kauai gives me hope that, one day, workers with disabilities will never again be paid a subminimum wage.

Our state Legislature has considered bills to end the practice at the state level, like HB 1627 and SB 3023 in year 2018. This year, we have HB 232 and SB 349. Counties can set policies to block public funds and facilities from going to the nonprofits that exploit our workers, and it might be nice for Kauai to implement such roadblocks to prevent this practice from coming to Kauai.

I have heard that Kauai County has an excellent ADA coordinator in Linda Nuland. I was happy to hear that she was reappointed by Mayor Kawakami. I hear that Mayor Kawakami has great respect for workers with disabilities and tells stories of his positive experiences with us in the grocery business.

People on Kauai may think this is normal for the people who oversee disability-related protections; I wish it were, but it is not. I hope that our state Legislature will pass a bill this year to extend the aloha shown to us on Kauai to the whole entire state.

Michael Tada, Honolulu


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