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Group raises concerns about regulations on sheltered workshops

News-Press Now, December 6, 2016

More than 70 Specialty Industries of St. Joseph employees and their supporters met inside the facility at 3801 S. Leonard Road on Tuesday evening to form a group to advocate for the rights of adults with disabilities.

The meeting was in response to changes in a federal ruling last June in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA, that requires workshop employees be paid minimum wage and that they must also seek employment in a more competitive work environment.

The ruling could potentially close sheltered workshops across the country, including the 89 in Missouri and put 6,800 disabled Missourians out of work. The Sheltered Workshop of St. Joseph currently employs about 100 people.

Paul Bridenstine, president and CEO of Specialty Industries, said the meeting was to hopefully form a northwest Missouri chapter that will join the statewide A Team for Advocacy Awareness Advisement effort.

"The importance of coming here tonight is to give the employees, their parents and caregivers a voice to speak up and say they want to have sheltered employment as an option in their work life," he said.

Jackie Thompson, a 25 year-old Specialty Industries employee, said it was important for her to keep a job where she can work with her hands.

"I'm here to fight for my workshop," she said.

Mario Harris has been a Specialty Industries employee for more than 30 years. The 52-year-old St. Joseph man said he attended the meeting to try to keep his job of making boxes.

"I enjoy the work," he said.

Kathy Contreras attended the meeting to support her daughter, Katelyn, who has been a Specialty industries employee for five years. She said her daughter tried employment at other places but couldn't keep up. Without Specialty industries, she would be home doing nothing.

"She wants to work so this needs to stay open," Contreras said.

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