Sheltered Workshops Fulfills a Need

I wrote this because organizations like Wawanosh Enterprises should be defended on issues like this. Turning a service like this into a political and economic issue hurts everyone involved. It ends up becoming about making a point that only serves to benefit one individual temporarily while it sucks money and energy away from everyone else. Hopefully this letter helps people see the greater issues at stake here.

A piece I wrote in the Sarnia Journal. | source

The debate surrounding Wawanosh Enterprises and the honorarium its clients receive of just pennies an hour needs to be reframed.

We have to do better than buy into the capitalist inevitability that everything has only a monetary value. When we start to believe that lie we become unable to see any other value in an activity.

From a birds-eye view this issue is simple. How dare we pay workers a paltry wage because they have disabilities? But this isn’t a situation that can neatly be categorized as right or wrong. This isn’t comparable to paying employees of for-profit businesses, where you are looking for the best production for every dollar spent. When society’s values are steeped in economics then human effort is judged only by the paycheque.

This isn’t a case of employees being paid poorly. Rather, a beautiful and life-giving service has been framed in the language and expectations of the marketplace.

I’ve spent time at the different Wawanosh sites, and I know many different individuals who do the work involved there. Money has very little to do with their incentive for working, or the organization’s incentive for operating.

Wawanosh is a place where clients can be part of a community, contribute to the creation of a product without the pressure of a competitive workforce, and have tailored supports and trained staff that work directly with specific needs.

Those things are all valuable and provided as the primary purpose of the organization. If you are privileged enough to get a job that pays a wage, then we celebrate with you. But please don’t ruin it for those who need Wawanosh for reasons other than money.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley has said, “Now when many people hear there are places in this community that pay as little as $1 an hour, there’s a lot of shock.”

If people are in shock then educate them, don’t cater to their ignorance.

This is a nuanced and complex issue, but we should all work together as a community to protect places like Wawanosh.

This situation devalues the individuals involved, refuses to see their specific needs and forces them into a box defined by a society obsessed with money, rather than supporting and being in relationship with the individual.

We need to provide room for alternative ways of work that benefit and empower the marginalized in our community, which is exactly what Wawanosh Enterprises does.

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