Governor works the grill
Walker meets with disabilities advocate
By Scott Bellile
Gov. Scott Walker paid a visit to McDonald’s in New London to witness what importance a fast food career holds to a state disabilities advocate.
New London resident David Pinno, a McDonald’s employee since 2015, invited the governor Feb. 20 as part of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities’ Take Your Legislator to Work Campaign.
Pinno serves on the Wisconsin BPDD. The board’s stated mission to help people with disabilities become “independent, productive, and included in all facets of community life.”
Pinno and Walker exchanged conversation on the topic as they dished up lunch and delivered orders to customers.
“We’re so thrilled not only to see the work that you do but the independence that that brings for you as a part of your life,” Walker told Pinno at a news conference afterward. “The great job that you’re doing here and the morale that that brings for everybody else that’s a part of your team here at McDonald’s, that’s pretty exciting.”
Walker said he encourages employers statewide to hire more workers with physical or intellectual disabilities because they are “some of the most loyal, dependable workers” on staff.
Steve Kilian Jr., co-owner of the New London McDonald’s, said he backs the governor’s sentiment. Pinno is Kilian’s only worker with a disability at the New London franchise, but Kilian said he and his father employ “many” more people with disabilities across the state.
“Diversity is always good, and you meet caring individuals and help them be on their feet and take care of themselves,” Kilian said. “The customers love David and it’s just a win-win for everybody.”
Walker said Wisconsin is “one of the top states in the nation” for hiring workers with disabilities thanks to initiatives such as Project SEARCH, a nine-to-12-month program that offers career exploration and training to young adult high school students with disabilities.
Pinno told the Press Star people with disabilities are underutilized in the workforce, so he appreciated that the governor’s visit drew attention to the issue.
Pinno added more remains to be done statewide to provide workers like himself with career opportunities, so he respectfully disagrees with Walker that Wisconsin is a top state for employees with disabilities.
According to a report by the national advocacy group RespectAbility, Wisconsin had the 10th highest employment rate for workers with disabilities in the U.S. at 41.2 percent in 2016, the latest year data was available. Wisconsin’s employment rate was higher than the national average of 34.9 percent.
RespectAbility stated the many of the 12 million unemployed Americans with disabilities would prefer to be working and independent but are instead living off government benefits.
Pinno said the current system essentially penalizes workers with disabilities by taking away benefits such as food stamps if they exceed the allowable income limit. Yet oftentimes the worker’s paycheck does not provide enough money to pay for food, he said.
Pinno’s role as a BPDD member is to advocate for a system that is fairer to Wisconsinites with disabilities.
“The goal should be to make more incentives for people rather than disincentives,” Pinno said.
Walker’s visit to the New London McDonald’s was not the first Take Your Legislator to Work appearance by a state government official. Two years earlier, State Sen. Luther Olsen cooked with Pinno and ate a meal afterward.
Beth Moss, project coordinator for the BPDD, said she was happy to see that Walker appreciates the contributions to the workplace employees with disabilities provide.
Moss highlighted three state bills in the works that she said would positively impact people with disabilities:
• The Supported Decision-Making Bill would grant adults with disabilities more freedom to decide what life decisions they do and do not want help with making. Often parents of 17-year-olds with disabilities are advised to obtain legal guardianship over their teens, which removes some of the person’s civil rights to make decisions, Moss said.
• The Partners with Business Bill would allow a business that hires a worker with a disability to have one of its own workers provide support services instead of hire an outside job coach. The state would reimburse the business for its time.
• The Employment First Bill would push state agencies to work toward establishing comparable wages between workers with and without disabilities. State agencies would be required to set benchmarks and goals and publish progress reports.