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Opinion: Everyone’s entitled to a fair wage. That includes people with disabilities

June 24, 2019 | Austin American Statesman

Governor Greg Abbott has no pity for persons with disabilities. Paradoxically, he is the only governor in the United States who has to use a wheelchair. Thirty-five years ago, while he was out for a run, an oak tree cracked and landed on him. Governor Abbott never wanted any special treatment because of his disability. He lives his life as an example for every other person with disabilities.

Governor Greg Abbott, right, lives his life as an example for every other person with disabilities, Robert Stack writes. [RODOLFO GONZALEZ/for the AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
Governor Greg Abbott, right, lives his life as an example for every other person with disabilities, Robert Stack writes. [RODOLFO GONZALEZ/for the AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Earlier this month, he signed Senate Bill 753 authored by John Raney, R-College Station, and Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. This “new” law mandates that every Texas worker regardless of disabilities will earn at least minimum wage.

Nationally, there is an antiquated law passed in 1938 called the “Fair” Labor Standards Act section 14 c. It has maintained a loophole allowing persons with disabilities to be paid as little as two cents per hour. It was established based on “levels of productivity” and enables contractors to exploit people with disabilities.

Governor Abbott, who understands, empathizes but has no pity for people with disabilities, believes that everyone is entitled to a fair wage. He was prodded by a millennial with Down syndrome to sign the bill, but it could be any one of his cohorts with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy or intellectual disabilities. Some may say that this was an easy decision. Let me assure you, this is an anomaly and I commend the governor for his fortitude.

In “progressive” states like New York, legislators are attempting to manipulate the process to keep the sub-minimum wage. They and many other states are pushing governors to keep wages for persons with disabilities at wages below minimum. Again, the argument is that it is based on levels of productivity.

Governor Abbott knows this is absurd. People with disabilities should be compensated the same as anyone else. Besides, if people were paid based on levels of productivity, there would be a lot of people in Washington making 25 cents a week.

Stack is president and CEO of Community Options, a national nonprofit supporting persons with disabilities with offices in Austin.