[NFBOK-Talk] Recommended article on 14C
jmassay1 at cox.net
Wed Sep 7 20:38:58 UTC 2016
I can never say thank you enough for the work you are doing on the TIME Act.
We are really creating momentum around this issue. Please see below for an
excellent article from an important national publication on the 14(c)
People With Disabilities Aren't Entitled to the Minimum Wage
September 7, 2016
Michelle Chen - The Nation
The old labor motto goes, "From each according to ability, to each according
to need," but hundreds of thousands of people are stuck in jobs that pay
according to their disability, and end up with jobs that match neither
ability nor need.
Although federal labor law's guiding principle is "equal pay for equal
work," workers with disabilities are categorically restricted from earning
equal pay under antiquated federal labor laws, and physically barred from
regular workplaces. People with disabilities are literally stuck on a
second-class wage scale, based on the assumption that they lack the
competence to be equally productive. The structural bias ingrained in the
labor market has left more than 80 percent of people with disabilities out
of the workforce.
But amid rising debates on social inequality, the political conversation on
fair labor for people with disabilities is shifting from sympathy to equity.
Disability rights got boosted at the Democratic National Convention, with a
platform provision for abolishing the so-called "sub-minimum wage" for
workers with disabilities. The move follows years of grassroots and
legislative advocacy on the state and federal levels to dismantle policies
that restrict pay or job access for workers with disabilities.
The sub-minimum wage remains a powerful, and condescending, discriminatory
barrier, say rights advocates. The Fair Labor Standards Act provision known
as 14(c) allows some bosses to seek waivers, known as "exemptions," to pay
substandard wages to workers with impairments-in some cases under $1 per
hour. Since the New Deal, the rules have been incrementally whittled down,
so that instead of ensuring opportunity for workers who would otherwise be
excluded, many segregated programs for workers with disabilities-typically
low-grade jobs doing rote tasks like assembling housewares-can effectively
pay whatever they want-if the firms certify the wages are "commensurate" for
their duties (an arbitrary standard prone to exploitation).
Some changes are already underway. The Labor Department just tightened
standards for granting employers exemptions, mandating that workers in
sub-minimum-wage jobs be provided transitional services focused on
integration into community-based jobs, and stipulating that workers under
age 24 could not be placed in exempt jobs without first being offered
transitional services. A recent executive order raised minimum wages for
federal contract workers with disabilities.
David Hutt, staff attorney with the National Disability Rights Network
(NDRN), says via e-mail that workforce segregation and sub-minimum wages are
byproducts of antiquated discriminatory policies: "The payment of
sub-minimum wages is often the result of a failure to recognize the
tremendous advances in services and supports created since the 1930's that
allow individuals with disabilities to be fully inclusive members of the
workforce, as well as the unique abilities of each individual."
Advocates are also campaigning to stop federal subsidies for segregated
sheltered workshops and "training" programs, where workers tend to languish
indefinitely in jobs with virtually no redeeming educational value. In
recent years, the vast majority of workforce-development funding from
Medicare and rehabilitation agencies has supported segregation-based
programs, which employ some 400,000 people; just a small percentage has been
invested in integration-oriented approaches, according to the NDRN's
Besides, segregation is just inefficient. Sheltered work programs move only
about 5 percent of workers into mainstream community-based work settings
over time. A recent study on workers with autism revealed that "individuals
who participated in sheltered workshops earned significantly less ($129.36
versus $191.42 per week), and cost significantly more to serve ($6,065.08
versus $2,440.60), than their non-sheltered workshop peers."
Goodwill Industries has been scandalized for recruiting workers with
disabilities to work in stores for as little as $1 an hour in some cases.
This summer, federal regulators revoked the wage exemption of a West
Virginia-based nonprofit "Work Adjustment Center" purporting to provide
rehabilitation services, which owed about $48,000 in back wages to 12
workers doing assembly production jobs, after falsifying prevailing wage
Although segregated labor policies restricts people with disabilities from
fulfilling their economic and intellectual potential, it's simple, and often
surprisingly rewarding, to reverse the vicious cycle of low expectations,
argues Jordan Melograna of the advocacy campaign Rooted in Rights:
In integrated settings, the accommodations most people need do not
stigmatize them, or at least should not. A Deaf person may need an
interpreter. A Blind person may need to use voice recognition software. A
Little Person might need a different desk or chair.. The more integrated
employment, which really just means "employment," is the norm, the less
strange it will seem to non-disabled people.
Rights activists champion an Employment First framework, an
integration-oriented approach focused on decent, self-sustaining work,
rather than make-work jobs masked as therapy. In contrast to the traditional
one-size-fits-all model of "pay for productivity," the NDRN contends in a
policy brief: this more tailored approach is based on the idea "that the job
seeker is ready for work, and has a valuable contribution to make that is
based on their unique skills, interests and preferences."
As they mobilize for a total overhaul of the disability labor structure,
rights groups are pushing the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful
Employment Act, which would phase out Section 14(c) while aiming to reduce
barriers to integration into the mainstream workforce.
Beyond explicit segregation, though, the barriers to integration are
multifaceted, often rooted in culture rather than policy.
Michael Montgomery, the former head of a sheltered workshop in Mississippi,
faced parents' anxieties when he tried to encourage clients' families to let
their children work regular jobs. Families had "been told by doctors and
service systems that their kids needed to be in a sheltered and safe
environment.. They just don't believe that people can grow with the right
training and support, that they can have a good life," he recalled in a 2011
His organization then partnered with local employers to acclimatize trainees
to mainstream jobs with some adjustments, such as fewer hours or extra
training. The integrated setting worked better for everyone: "Rather than
building the fences in our workshop and paying for materials to be moved
back and forth, our crew went to his location. Our people liked working with
the other workers, liked being seen and respected."
If something as simple as building fences-under one roof, as neighbors-can
restore people's basic dignity and sense of self-respect, imagine what it
does to change a community's attitude toward disability.
The challenge is not one of disability rights but of human rights, and
should prompt a national conversation about a question that concerns workers
of every ability: What's the real meaning of a job?
Parnell Diggs, Esq.
Director of Government Affairs
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Office: (410) 659-9314, extension 2222
Mobile: (843) 267-2018
Email: pdiggs at nfb.org <mailto:pdiggs at nfb.org>
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.
Make a gift to the National Federation of the Blind and help ensure all
blind Americans live the lives they want
Jeannie M. Massay, M.A., LPC
330 W. Gray Street
Norman, OK 73069 jmassay1 at cox.net <mailto:jmassay1 at cox.net>
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