[Nfbc-info] [Seminar] FYI FW: [Nfb-legislative-directors] Urgent Legislative Alert for the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, HR 831

Mary Willows mwillows at sbcglobal.net
Wed Jun 18 04:47:11 UTC 2014

I sent out personal letters to 12 Republicans yesterday.

Please donate to Braille Enrichment for Learning & Literacy (BELL) by
sending your tax deductible donation to:

National Federation of the Blind of California (NFBC)
3934 Kern Court
Pleasanton, CA 94588

Thank you,
Mary Willows, President NFBC
mwillows at sbcglobal.net 

-----Original Message-----
From: seminar-bounces at nfbcal.org [mailto:seminar-bounces at nfbcal.org] On
Behalf Of Michael Hingson
Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 7:48 AM
To: 'NFB of California List'; seminar at nfbcal.org
Subject: [Seminar] FYI FW: [Nfb-legislative-directors] Urgent Legislative
Alert for the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, HR 831


Here is an urgent request from Rose at our National office concerning HR831.
This is something on which we need to move NOW.  Please take this seriously
and contact your congressional representatives.  Thanks. 


Michael Hingson

-----Original Message-----
From: Nfb-legislative-directors
[mailto:nfb-legislative-directors-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Sloan,
Rose via Nfb-legislative-directors
Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 07:37 AM
To: 'Nfb-legislative-directors at nfbnet.org'
Subject: [Nfb-legislative-directors] Urgent Legislative Alert for the Fair
Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, HR 831

Attention Legislative Directors,

We need your immediate attention to the following advocacy effort. Today and
throughout the week, SourceAmerica-formerly National Industries for the
Severely Handicapped (NISH)-will be on Capitol Hill advocating against H.R.
831: the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. SourceAmerica is
encouraging Members of Congress to "Oppose H.R. 831, the Fair Wages for
Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, and any legislation that eliminates
the principles of self-determination, the rights of individuals, or that
would curtail employment opportunities for people with significant

While this bill is fresh on the minds of legislative aides, please call and
email Members of Congress to present the other side-the right side-of the
argument. We know that people with disabilities should have the right to a
minimum wage just as every other American is entitled to. Americans with
disabilities should have the right to choose jobs that interest them and
match their existing and developing skills rather than simply being "placed"
into a segregated subminimum wage job. Please call or email your Members of
Congress today and express your support for H.R. 831. The phone number to
the Capitol Switch Board is (202) 224-3121.  

Yesterday afternoon, the flyer below was delivered to every Member of
Congress's office. Feel free to mention that this flyer was dropped off, and
feel free to use this flyer to develop talking points while on the phone. In
addition, the flyer will be emailed out to legislative aides today along
with an article from the Baltimore Sun (also below).  

Thank you all for your hard work. 

Yours in the fight for Fair Wages,



The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act (H.R. 831) 

*	Responsibly phases out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act
(FLSA), which currently allows employers to pay subminimum wages to workers
with disabilities.
*	Gives 14(c) certificate-holding nonprofit entities three years to
transform to a proven business model that provides training and support that
assists people with all disabilities to obtain competitive, integrated

The New Reality:
*	Strategies exist to assist those with even the most significant
disabilities to obtain competitive integrated employment.

*	Former 14(c) certificate-holding entities have successfully
converted to a business model that compensates every employee at the federal
minimum wage or higher. This includes most National Industries for the Blind
(NIB) non-profits and most Goodwill Industries.

*	Public funds should be used to assist people with disabilities to
become more financially self-sufficient, not to train them to be public

*	The over 70% unemployment rate of workers with disabilities can only
be corrected with the implementation of new innovative strategies.

Section 14(c) Subminimum wage payments:
*	Sustain an outdated, ineffective service model of low expectations.
*	Leave over 400,000 people with disabilities living in poverty.
*	Assist less than 5% of workers to obtain competitive integrated
*	Trap 95% of workers with disabilities in segregated work
*	Perpetuate dependency on public assistance. 
*	Can lead to abuse and exploitation (Henry's Turkey Service). 
*	Unnecessarily discriminate against workers with disabilities.

For more information: www.nfb.org/fair-wages. Rose Sloan, Government Affairs
Specialist, National Federation of the Blind, 410-659-9314, ext. 2441,
rsloan at nfb.org



'Subminimum wage' for disabled workers called exploitative

Some paid pennies per hour for limited work

By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

10:45 PM EDT, June 14, 2014

At a noisy warehouse off Veterans Highway in Millersville, a young woman
concentrates as she pokes black shoelaces into cardboard packaging. In
another room, workers slowly count tiny bottles of hair products, placing
them in plastic bags that will end up as samples in salons.

To some, these workers with developmental disabilities are getting valuable
on-the-job-training and the self-respect that comes with employment. Others
say they're being exploited - because wages in the facility, run by a
nonprofit, are as low as 25 cents an hour.

A nearly 80-year-old exemption in the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act allows
employers across the country to pay so-called "subminimum" wages to hundreds
of thousands of people with disabilities. In Maryland, some disabled workers
have been paid as little as a penny an hour in recent years, according to
documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun through public-information laws.

One person was paid 68 cents an hour to assemble trophies, records from the
U.S. Department of Labor show. Another received an hourly rate of $3.20 to
do laundry for a uniform company. And one made $2.44 an hour to sweep, mop
and straighten shelves at a thrift store.

A debate about the wages paid to these disabled workers has divided
nonprofits in Maryland and nationally. Opponents say the system is holding
back participants, feeding a cycle of low expectations and dependency. Under
the exemption, there is no limit on how long workers can hold the low-paying

"You set people's expectations very low, you say this is all you could ever
hope for - and then that's what you're stuck with," said Chris Danielsen of
the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, which has been trying
for years to eliminate the subminimum wage.

"What's really between people with disabilities and their dreams, and having
a normal productive life, is the low expectations," he said.

Some nonprofits that serve people with disabilities defend the program -
known as 14(c) for the exemption in federal labor law - as a tool to help
workers find employment. The jobs provide a paycheck while the workers gain
training. Without it, they might not get any work at all, supporters say.

"This gives them the ability to work and still earn money and gain
self-esteem with medical and behavioral supports still in place," said Vicki
Callahan, executive director of the nonprofit Opportunity Builders Inc.,
which employs the people working in the Millersville warehouse. "A lot of
people who walk through this building would say, 'I never thought they could
do work.' The fact is, they can - with support."

All sides agree that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities is
troubling. Just over 19 percent of disabled people work - compared with 68
percent of all Americans 16 and older, according to the U.S. Department of

Those who favor the 14(c) program say that without it, the numbers would be
even bleaker.

"Many employers are not willing to give these folks a chance," said Martin
Lampner, CEO of Chimes, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that offers services for
people with developmental disabilities.

Debate about the subminimum wage drew attention in 2012, when the National
Federation of the Blind urged a boycott of Goodwill Industries because of
its CEO's half-million-dollar salary, but efforts to abolish the 14(c)
program began decades ago.

Rep. Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican, has been an ally of the
Federation of the Blind in the campaign. He has sponsored the Fair Wages for
Workers with Disabilities Act, which would phase out the 14(c) program over
three years.

To Harper, the low wages are a form of discrimination, one that is stopping
people from reaching their full potential.

"We believe that what we're seeing is just extremely unfair," said Harper,
whose son, Livingston, has the intellectual disability Fragile X syndrome.

The issue again gained a national spotlight in February, when President
Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay
all workers - including the disabled - $10.10 per hour.

In Maryland, advocates had hoped that this year's political focus on raising
the state's minimum wage would bring attention to disabled people earning
subminimum pay, but no one introduced legislation to address the issue.

"If you're speaking about wages and improving living conditions, then you
have to have that discussion with the entire workforce," said Dan Schmitt, a
board member of the Arc of Maryland, which has joined the campaign to end
the subminimum wage.

Pay based on productivity

Through the U.S. Department of Labor, employers can apply for a Special
Minimum Wage Certificate, which gives them permission to pay less than the
federal minimum wage - currently $7.25 an hour - to workers who have
disabilities. Maryland has about 45 such employers, according to the

Most are nonprofits that serve people with disabilities. Some employ a
handful of workers, while others employ hundreds, paying wages that can vary
widely. The nonprofits often contract with businesses that need the services
disabled workers can provide. These job sites, where people with
disabilities work apart from others, are sometimes called sheltered

Employers calculate the pay of a 14(c) employee based on how much the worker
can produce compared to a person who doesn't have disabilities. For
instance, if an able-bodied person can clean a bathroom in 20 minutes and it
takes a disabled worker 40 minutes to do it, the worker would be paid half
the prevailing wage in the area for a janitor.

The pay can be different for workers doing the same job, depending on their
ability. In the kitchen of a cafe in Northwest Baltimore run by Chimes, for
instance, Cindy Iames, 58, earns $4.44 an hour helping to prepare food. John
Britt, 28, who also works in the kitchen, makes $7.55 an hour - more than
the minimum wage.

At the Opportunity Builders warehouse, payment is based on a wage of $10 per
hour, Callahan said. A worker who can do half as much as an able-bodied
person would make $5 per hour. But some workers earn more than $9 an hour,
she said.

The nonprofit fills 15 to 20 contracts a month, with an emphasis on
packaging, assembly and distribution.

Callahan and others say people with complex disabilities often need support
that they can't get from other employers. On a recent morning at Opportunity
Builders, one worker needed a staff member to help him count bottles of hair
products and another laid his head down as his peers filled the packages.

Severna Park resident David Lawrence, 44, earned an average of 99 cents an
hour last year at Opportunity Builders. The intellectually disabled man has
been with the organization for about 20 years. Earning a paycheck is an
important part of his life, said his father, a member of the nonprofit's

"He doesn't realize what he can or can't buy with it," Chet Lawrence said.
"But the fact that he gets it is a very uplifting experience."

The most important thing, he said, "is for David to be doing something that
he likes, that is productive. ... If we insist upon him getting the minimum
wage, I believe all the work would basically dry up."

Supporters of the special wage certificates point out that most agencies
that use them provide a spectrum of job-training services and that working
under the 14(c) program can help some people develop enough skill to get
jobs in the community at a conventional rate of pay.

"We intend to move them into the community because that's ultimately our
objective," said Dan Kurtenbach, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of
Monocacy Valley, which holds a 14(c) certificate.

Opponents point to a 2001 investigation by the Government Accountability
Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which found that only 5 percent
of those in sheltered workplaces end up finding jobs in the community. And
they say that the premise of the subminimum wage - basing a wage for the
disabled on a lesser productivity - is inherently discriminatory.

"No matter what your level of productivity, the minimum wage is set
nationwide for all workers," said Cari DeSantis, the CEO of Melwood, a
nonprofit in Prince George's County that serves and employs people with
disabilities. Among other services, its employees do janitorial work for
government agencies and groundskeeping for businesses and other

Melwood for many years used the 14(c) program to pay a subminimum wage to
its workers. But DeSantis said it bothered her. She thought of the workers
in Melwood's greenhouses, which provide plants to clients, including the
Kennedy Center.

"The thought of having paid him or her less than minimum wage just strikes
me as wrong," DeSantis said.

Last summer, DeSantis led a policy change, and all of Melwood's workers now
make at least minimum wage. The shift cost Melwood about $50,000; the
organization says it has covered the added expense through administrative

At The Arc Baltimore, which serves people with developmental disabilities,
administrators have been "on a steady path to eliminate the payment of
subminimum wage," Executive Director Steve Morgan said.

But because the workers might not be as productive as those that private
employers can find elsewhere, the Arc continues to pay some employees a
lower wage.

"It can be challenging for us to find private contracts where a company is
paying us enough to pay everyone minimum wage," Morgan said.

Relic of old attitudes?

In the 1970s and 1980s, Baltimore resident Charles Biebl worked in a
sheltered workshop. He screwed parts onto the backs of telephones, and was
paid per phone. He remembers a week in 1975 when he worked overtime and
still earned just "$15 and some change."

"The philosophy was, 'They ought to be happy, be thankful for what they
have,'" said Biebl, 61, who is blind and lives in East Baltimore with his
92-year-old mother.

Biebl calls the end of subminimum wage "way overdue."

"We do want to be productive, just like anybody else," he said.

Last year, the federal government began investigating Rhode Island's system
of employment for intellectually and developmentally disabled workers. It
concluded that the state relied too much on programs that kept such workers
separated from others. In a settlement this year, Rhode Island agreed to
provide more opportunities for work in mainstream jobs.

Vermont phased out its sheltered workshops over 20 years, with the last one
closing in the early 2000s, said Bryan Dague, a research associate at the
University of Vermont's Center on Disability and Community Inclusion.

Vermont was a pioneer in developing the concept of community-based
employment and set up pilot projects that were replicated across the state.

While some agencies resisted, "the sheltered workshops just eventually
closed down," Dague said.

The state took a gradual approach, limiting and then prohibiting funding for
sheltered workshops and "enclaves," where a group of people with
disabilities worked separately from others at a business, said Jennie
Masterson, supported employment services coordinator at the Vermont Division
of Disability and Aging Services.

When the last sheltered workshop closed, about 50 people worked there, she
said. Roughly 90 percent found employment in the community.

She did not have an estimate of the overall costs involved in the
switchover. But as an example, she said the state provided $50,000 for the
agency running the last sheltered workshop to hire a full-time job developer
to help individuals find employment. Vermont also increased each
individual's Medicaid allotment to cover the cost of employment and support

Dague says the debate over 14(c) is not simply about wages.

"There's very low expectations in sheltered workshops," Dague said. "You can
just sort of sit around not doing anything. ... It's not an environment
where they're really going to learn either the work skills or the social
skills that they're going to need to function in the community."

Over time, a shift in attitudes has led to "greater and greater
integration," of people with disabilities, said Ari Ne'eman, president of
the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

"We've certainly seen that in housing," Ne'eman said. "Now it's time to do
the same within the context of employment."

Rose Sloan
Government Affairs Specialist

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone: (410) 659-9314, extension 2441
Email: rsloan at nfb.org

"Eliminating Subminimum Wages for People with Disabilities" 

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the
characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the
expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles
between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want;
blindness is not what holds you back.

To make a donation to the National Federation of the Blind Imagination Fund,
please visit www.nfb.org/ImaginingOurFuture.

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