Great article in the Times today about our annual Quarter Auction. It’s this Saturday, August 27.
There is a building nationwide movement to end subminimum wage, or “piece-rate,” as you may have heard it phrased. New Federal rules make it much more difficult for a person to be paid in such a manner. Though a person can enter our programs in the same way as they always have, they’ll need to obtain a lot of documentation in order to be paid by piece rate.
We have mixed feelings about this. We strongly believe in integrated, community-based employment paid at minimum wage or higher. However, this requires a level of supports that is not supported by our funding. Picture the number of staff it takes to run a job in our workshop…one staff needed for anywhere from 4-10 consumers. In the community you would need a lot more staff, which we can’t afford based on our current level of funding. We want what is best for the people we serve but have to do our best right now based on the resources available. We’d love for that situation to improve.
How does piece rate work at SU? There are a lot of misconceptions. Basically we do a time study to see what an average working in the community could get done in an hour. Then we take off 15% for things that might generally slow down a person and then take off another percentage for fatigue if a person is doing the job for a full day. That varies with the physical intensity of the job. Then we divide that new total of pieces per hour into the local prevailing wage (basically what a person doing similar work would be paid after their first raise). Some of our consumers end up making minimum wage anyway because they are able to work quickly. Some make less because they aren’t able to go fast, or are learning how to focus or need other supports.
Sometimes when we bid a job for companies, they are surprised we are not a lot cheaper. But prevailing wage doesn’t mean an unfair wage–it just means there’s an allowance so that people who aren’t able to work at typical productivity levels can still work and we can afford to pay them. For many of the people we serve, work is about pride and self-worth moreso than a large paycheck. For some, though, our supports allow them to earn the income they need to live.
The bill to increase wages for DSPs is now on the Governor’s desk. If you’d like to advocate for this bill, the coalition is is having people send postcards to Governor Rauner. You may also want to give feedback to our legislators and candidates: Representative Skoog voted in favor of the bill. Senator Rezin didn’t. Their opponents in the election have not taken positions on the bill that we are aware of.
Legislators and the Governor passed a stopgap state budget yesterday. How does it directly impact SU? Not at all. We’ve been fortunate that our residential and developmental training services have been paid all along due to a court order. With no exaggeration, we would have closed by now were it not for this court order, which thankfully has been extended through state fiscal year 2017. We still won’t be paid for the contracted janitorial services we provide at the Illinois State Police Headquarters. It seems likely we’ll have to go to the Court of Clams for that, which can take a very long time. There was no help for wages for direct care staff (or for the other expenses which have risen in the decade since we last got an increase).
Our over-riding concern continues to be the administration’s apparent desire to do away with small social service agencies and only contract with large one, as stated by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, describing it as “a necessary shakeout” and as “starving the beast.” We would ask that people oppose this policy. We think smaller agencies, rooted in their communities, will be better for people than large, multi-state corporations.
One example occurred yesterday, while we were having to turn around state contracts for FY17, which begins today, in incredibly short order. One state agency with whom we work reinstated the requirement for national accreditation, which the previous administration had waived due to agencies’ financial hardship. We believe accreditation is a good practice, but when you’re scrambling just to keep your homes staffed, it’s not something worth spending large amounts of time you don’t have plus $10-20,000 on. In the past few months we have had 6 separate state surveys which looked at all aspects of our organization. That required a lot of time on our part, but we do believe the state should be making sure providers are doing a good job. Requiring accreditation on top of this may not be a big matter for large agencies, but for agencies the size of SU it’s a big deal and a drain on limited resources.
Slightly older news, but a first-time mention in this paper. Our focus is always our mission to serve adults with disabilities, but we do so many small things that impact the community that is so supportive of us.