[Colorado-talk] Fwd: [Nfb-legislative-directors] Iowa View: Harkin's antiquated stand on disabled wages

Dan Burke burke.dall at gmail.com
Mon Dec 23 14:38:16 UTC 2013

A must-read ...

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Lewis, Anil" <ALewis at nfb.org>
Date: Sun, 22 Dec 2013 16:24:48 +0000
Subject: [Nfb-legislative-directors] Iowa View: Harkin's antiquated
stand on disabled wages
To: "nfb-legislative-directors at nfbnet.org"
<nfb-legislative-directors at nfbnet.org>, "Affiliate Presidents
(state-affiliate-leadership-list at nfbnet.org)"
<state-affiliate-leadership-list at nfbnet.org>

Iowa View: Harkin's antiquated stand on disabled wages
Iowa View
Dec. 21, 2013 4:30 PM   |
Written by
Michael Barber

MICHAEL D. BARBER of Des Moines is president of the Iowa affiliate of
the National Federation of the Blind. Contact:
michael.nfbi at gmail.com<mailto:michael.nfbi at gmail.com>.

As a blind person who leads a statewide organization of blind people,
I am often asked: What is the greatest challenge blind people face? My
answer usually surprises people: For the blind, as for all people with
disabilities, our biggest problem is other people's attitudes about
our disabilities and about how we should be treated.
Everyone wants to help us, but the kind of help they want to give
isn't always the kind of help we need. When we try to explain this, we
are told that we are being unreasonable or, worse, ungrateful.
Why can't we accept the things that society is willing to give us and
believes to be best for us? The answer is simple: Like all other
Americans, we demand freedom, not the care of supposedly benevolent
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., has been the political champion of people
with disabilities for many years and was a key proponent of the
passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the civil rights
act for people with disabilities.
The adulation he has justifiably received for his advocacy has,
however, given him the impression that he can speak for us. Sen.
Harkin has mistaken our appreciation of his past service for
permission to advance a public policy that will set us back in our
struggle for equality. He is endorsing an antiquated and immoral
practice that allows workers with disabilities to be paid less than
the minimum wage.
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows certain employers
to pay less than the federal minimum wage - usually "sheltered
workshops," the term for segregated factories set up specifically for
workers with disabilities. Some of these workshops not only pay their
workers mere pennies per hour, but they have them working in abhorrent
conditions where the workers are physically and psychologically
The Des Moines Register reported extensively on such a case, that of
Henry's Turkey Service, which paid workers at an Iowa turkey
processing plant 41 cents per hour and housed them in a
roach-infested, unheated building.
In a recent bill known as the Workforce Investment Act,
reauthorization was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor
and Pensions Committee, which Sen. Harkin chairs. Language was
included in Title V, Section 511 that purports to reduce the number of
youth with disabilities placed in a sheltered workshop.
Although the intent is laudable, the policy endorses segregated
subminimum-wage environments as viable training and employment options
for workers with disabilities.
There is a better way to stop young people from becoming victims of
subminimum-wage employment: Responsibly phase out the use of this
practice over a three-year period, allowing existing entities to
convert to a proven business model that leads to competitive
integrated employment of people with disabilities.
That's what another bill, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities
Act, would do. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., introduced this
legislation, and it currently has nearly 50 co-sponsors and is
supported by the National Federation of the Blind and over 60 other
organizations of people with disabilities.
Americans with disabilities have tried to convince members of the U.S.
Senate to support a responsible phase-out of subminimum wages, like
that introduced by Rep. Harper, rather than the ineffective, half
measure proposed in Sen. Harkin's bill.
We have offered objective policy analysis, historical data, case
studies and descriptions of alternative best practices. We have
provided data demonstrating that the archaic sheltered segregated
model costs more and produces poorer outcomes for workers with
disabilities. We have informed senators about alternatives for
competitive, integrated employment that assist even those with
significant disabilities in acquiring job skills that allow them to
earn at least the federal minimum wage.
But rather than considering the merits of our arguments, most respond
with this insulting question: "How does Sen. Harkin feel about this?"
With all due respect to Sen. Harkin, he is not a person with a
disability and cannot speak for us. His reputation as a champion of
the rights of people with disabilities came about because, in the
past, he listened to us and put forward legislation in response to
what he heard. When he rejects our advice, as he is doing by putting
forward Section 511, he is no longer a champion but a custodian,
seeking to substitute his own idea of what is best for us.
Sen. Harkin helped Americans with disabilities achieve important
milestones on our road to freedom. But freedom cannot be achieved
while Section 14(c) remains in force and its grinding, soul-crushing
machinery is merely tinkered with.
If Sen. Harkin wants to secure his legacy as a champion of Americans
with disabilities, he should amend the Workforce Investment Act to
remove Section 511 and introduce a Senate companion to the Fair Wages
for Workers with Disabilities Act.
These are the legitimate demands that millions of Americans with
disabilities, speaking for ourselves, have put forward. Sen. Harkin
and his colleagues must recognize and act upon them.

Mr. Anil Lewis, M.P.A.
Director of Advocacy and Policy

"Eliminating Subminimum Wages for People with Disabilities"

200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland   21230

(410) 659-9314 ext. 2374 (Voice)
(410) 685-5653 (FAX)
Email: alewis at nfb.org<mailto:alewis at nfb.org>
Web: www.nfb.org<http://www.nfb.org>
twitter: @anillife

Dan Burke
My Cell:  406.546.8546
Twitter:  @DallDonal

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