From Piece Rate to Earning a Livable Wage

Since 1938, section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act has allowed employers to pay people with disabilities wages below the federal minimum wage (U.S. Department of Labor).

Kirk Langsjoen used to be paid by how many labels he was able to put on bags in a given time period. He worked on this task in a group of people with disabilities at Peace Coffee through a contract with Lifeworks.

In 2017, Lifeworks changed our business model to ensure that all people receiving employment support from the organization work in their communities and earn livable wages. All subminimum wage work ceased.

Reflecting back to that time, Kirk notes,

“I thought that I was earning good money back when it was piece rate; now, as an hourly employee, I realize that I’m making so much more money in comparison.”

This decision to no longer offer subminimum wage work led the partnership between Lifeworks and Peace Coffee to evolve for the better – enhancing workplace culture, increasing productivity, and helping to build employees’ skillsets.

Sara Lidstrom, Production Manager, contemplates the impact of the change: “When it was a large group of Lifeworks Associates doing piece-rate work, the job was more isolated. The job coach would be the quality control. The work now is more consistent. It’s nice to have familiar faces around. And since it’s the same people doing the job week to week, we don’t have to retrain. We now have people who are really good at the job and who want to be here.”

Because of Kirk’s reliability, accuracy, and previous experience, Peace Coffee was happy to keep him on. Kirk, remembering how he felt when he received the news, stated, “It was honestly a wave of relief.Reads: 6,883 workers in Minnesota paid subminimum wage. Source: U.S. Department of Labor Having a familiar jobsite asking for me to stay on was what I needed to get my feet off the ground.”

Working at Peace Coffee has given Kirk the opportunity to develop his talents and to use his skills in new ways.

“The package label machine doesn’t always run perfectly and I’ve got a real eye for detail. It was having a lot of problems and I just started analyzing it, figuring out how the machine works. I really do like to troubleshoot and help other people.”

Kirk’s career at Peace Coffee provides him with a sense of security and helps him remain positive. When asked about how being an hourly employee has improved his life, he explains, “In all honesty, it’s partially the money and partially just knowing that I’m doing something right. I can be very down on myself at times, so being able to hold and keep a job actually helps to boost my mood and to keep me from being so down on myself.”

Kirk lives in a townhome and visits his parents on weekends. He enjoys playing video games and travels to gaming conventions annually.