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Push at State Capitol to end subminimum wage for people with disabilities

Push to end sub-minimum pay for people with disabilities
Push to end sub-minimum pay for people with disabilities 01:50

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For decades, it's been legal to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage, but there's momentum building to get rid of the practice. 

Kirk Langsjoen works at Peace Coffee, attaching labels on bags before they're shipped. When he started his position years ago, he was paid per label, making under $7 an hour.

"I can't stay on my feet very long, it's a nice sit-down job, you know?" said Langsjoen, who has ADD and Asperger's, a form of autism. 

More than 4,000 Minnesotans with disabilities are believed to have made less than minimum wage last year -- which has been a legal practice for decades.

"We've come to recognize payment of subminimum wages as not only a civil rights issue, but something that the type of work for which subminimum wage is paid tends to isolate and segregate people with disabilities," said Minnesota Department of Human Services Assistant Commissioner, Natasha Merz.

Now Langsjoen makes a salary above minimum wage.

The nonprofit that placed him, LifeWorks in Richfield, decided to only work with employers who paid minimum wage, and Peace Coffee kept Langsjoen on.

A bill at the Capitol would abolish subminimum wage by 2025. Critics fear the change could disrupt disability services and put centers like LifeWorks at risk, but they point to their own success.

"We were very planned about it, very intentional about how we did it, and most of the employers we were working with decided to transition to minimum wage," said Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa, LifeWorks President and CEO.

State officials say getting rid of subminimum wage wouldn't mean everyone with a disability would have to work full time.

They want to work with each individual to continue services and find what's best for them.

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