[Colorado-talk] Fwd: [State-affiliate-leadership-list] Fortune: Disabled workers left in the cold on minimum wage

Dan Burke burke.dall at gmail.com
Sat Feb 15 01:40:33 UTC 2014


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Pare, John" <JPare at nfb.org>
Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2014 18:27:26 +0000
Subject: [State-affiliate-leadership-list] Fortune: Disabled workers
left in the cold on minimum wage
To: "state-affiliate-leadership-list at nfbnet.org"
<state-affiliate-leadership-list at nfbnet.org>

Anil is featured throughout the article below.  Great job Anil!

Disabled workers left in the cold on minimum wage
By Claire Zillman,
February 12, 2014: 11:19 AM ET

Disabled workers are not subject to the federal minimum wage on
account of a law that was passed 76 years ago.

FORTUNE -- In the ongoing fight to raise the minimum
in the U.S., advocates of a nationwide hike often refer to a few
notable dates to highlight how long it's been since the hourly rate
has changed.

2009: When Congress last raised the federal minimum wage to $7.25

1991: The last time Congress raised the federal minimum wage for
tipped workers to $2.13.

Well, here's another: 1938, the last time Congress addressed how
disabled Americans are paid. At the time, the legislature decided
disabled Americans ought to be exempt from receiving the federal
minimum wage.

That year, Congress instituted what's known as the 14c exemption to
the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows employers to obtain a
special wage certificate from the Department of Labor that waives
their obligation to pay disabled individuals the federally mandated
minimum wage. The 420,000 disabled employees who are now subject to
14c instead earn what's called a commensurate wage that employers
determine by testing the productivity of a non-disabled person and
comparing it to what a disabled person can do. That ratio dictates the
disabled employee's pay. (According to the Americans with Disabilities
Act, a disability is anything that limits your everyday activities.)
So if the test employee can screw on 100 pen caps in an hour, and the
disabled work completes 50, the latter employee will receive as little
as half the wage of his non-disabled counterpart, with some adjustment
made to account for personal time, fatigue, and delay.

Congress passed the original legislation 76 years ago because it
"rightfully felt that these individuals had the desire to be part of
the fabric of America," says Anil Lewis, director of advocacy and
policy for the National Federation of the Blind. But that was a
different time; when "discrimination was inevitable because service
systems were based on a charity model, rather than empowerment and
self-determination and when societal low expectations for people with
disabilities colored policy making," the National Council on
Disability says.

Today, advocates for the disabled say that the legislative relic is
contributing to disabled individuals' modern day plight.

When the 14c exemption was first passed, it required that disabled
employees in competitive industries earn at least
of the minimum wage. In 1966, that requirement dropped to 50%, and in
1986, the floor was removed altogether. Fifteen years later, a report
by the Government Accountability Office found that so-called
sub-minimum wage workers earned on average $2.15 an hour. In 2011, the
Bureau of Labor
found that people with disabilities are three times more likely to
live in poverty, and only 18.7% of people with disabilities
participate in the workforce, compared to 68.3% of non-disabled

Chester Finn, now a client advocate for the New York Office for People
With Developmental Disabilities and who's visually impaired, was
employed under 14c at a workshop for the disabled in western New York
in the 1990s. He told Fortune that he started out making $4 for two
full weeks of 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. work days. Six years later, his
paycheck had reached $100, but still comes out to less than minimum

He paid for his apartment with social security checks. "The wages
never would've gotten me that," he says. "I never could have even
bought groceries." He left the workshop after meeting the commissioner
of the OPWDD and pitching his skills as a self-advocate.

In exiting his sub-minimum wage arrangement, Finn is an exception. The
14c program is intended to provide temporary employment for disabled
workers and train them to enter a normal work environment, yet the GAO
found that less than 5% of the disabled workers in the program ever
leave it for a job in the broader community.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama
proposed raising the minimum wage for federal contracted workers to
$10.10 by executive order, but the plan initially exempted federal
contractors that use the 14c program from paying their disabled
workers the new rate. Advocacy groups immediately called for the
president to change course.

The National Council on Disability said in a Feb. 3
letter<http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2014/01302014/#Footnote1> that
if the Obama Administration "wants to stamp out income inequality for
all Americans, including Americans with disabilities" it should
reconsider its decision to not apply the raised minimum wage to people
with disabilities. On Wednesday, when the White House released the
final version of its executive order, which is set to be signed
Wednesday afternoon, it clearly stated that disabled workers would
receive the new minimum wage. "Under current law, workers whose
productivity is affected because of their disabilities may be paid
less than the wage paid to others doing the same job under certain
specialized certificate programs. Under this Executive Order, all
individuals working under service or concessions contracts with the
federal government will be covered by the same $10.10 per hour minimum
wage protections," the order says.

Lewis of the National Federation of the Blind says that this effort by
advocates was mainly symbolic since the executive order will apply to
a small population of people and because federal contracted workers
often make more than minimum wage to begin with. "It's not an argument
for or against the minimum wage," he says, "People with disabilities
should not be exempted from it regardless of what it is."

Advocates for the disabled have pushed for reform through the Fair
Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, which was introduced to the
House of Representatives in February 2013. The bill, sponsored by
Republican Representative Gregg Harper of Mississippi, would bar the
Labor Department from granting sub-minimum wage certificates to
employers and repeal the existing certificates over the course of
three years. The bill has 62 co-sponsors, but not enough support to
merit a committee vote.

ACCESS, a coalition of nonprofits that employ the disabled, is against
phasing out 14c. In a letter opposing the National Council on
Disability's 2012 recommendation to end the program, it said that
"hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities will most likely
become unemployed or lose the opportunity to become employed in the
future." A commensurate wage, the letter said, is in place to "prevent
the curtailment of employment" for individuals who are "not capable of
meeting productivity standards."

In a statement<https://harper.house.gov/press-release/harper-authors-bill-provide-fair-wages-disabled>
announcing the legislation, Harper's office said that instead of
pushing people with disabilities into sheltered, sub-minimum wage
employment as current labor laws do, the new legislation would
facilitate access to alternative work or training opportunities that
are "more cost-effective and produce more competitive outcomes."

Lewis points to a program called Employment First as one viable
option. It helps disabled individuals discover what they're good at
and finds customized, inclusive employment opportunities that fit
those skills. For instance, if someone with disabilities can sort
hangers by color in a sheltered workshop setting, he can sort
color-coded mail in an office building. The difference, Lewis says, is
that the employee is in an inclusive environment, where his coworkers
can see him doing the job.

"When we start shifting the paradigm away from seeing the disabled as
needing to be cared for to one in which they can be part of the
workforce, then you'll see the creation of other jobs," Lewis says.
Programs like Employment First "start with the belief that the person
can," Lewis says. The sub-minimum wage system "starts with the person

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Dan Burke
My Cell:  406.546.8546
Twitter:  @DallDonal

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