[Ohio-talk] Congressman LaTourette making trouble in the House

Barbara Pierce bpierce at oberlin.net
Tue Feb 28 14:37:16 UTC 2012


I have seen nothing on this list about the instructions that state
presidents got for mobilizing legislative effort across the country, so I am
stepping in as the legislative committee chair to urge everyone to call or
email      Steve LaTourette's staff member handling the commercialization
amendment for H.R. 7, a reauthorization bill. His name is John Miceli, and
his email address is john.miceli at mail.house.gov. The number for the
LaTourette office is 202-225-5731. Probably next week Steve is supposed to
introduce this amendment-Dennis Kucinich is a cosponsor, by the way. It
would invite the big boys in food service operations to bid on vending
machine service for rest stops on the nation's highways. This would destroy
the Kennelly vending sites in rest areas. These are among the best locations
for our business enterprise program vendors. Steve has always been a friend
to the blind. I can't believe that he decided to sponsor this amendment in
the knowledge that it would destroy blind vendors' livelihoods. Please call
or write John Miceli to make your views of this amendment known. This
amendment does not exist in the Senate version of this bill, so it should
not be a big deal to withdraw it from the House bill. 

 

The other issue that is very important right now is urging Ohio members to
cosponsor H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. This
would remove the certificate of exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
This is the section that allows employers to hire disabled people at less,
sometimes much less, than the minimum wage. We got lots of attention when we
were on Capitol Hill for this bill, but the sheltered shops have come
roaring back with a brochure claiming that disabled people would be put out
of work if this law were passed. Despite the fact that Missouri was targeted
on this effort, Gary Wunder tells me that he has just gotten eight new
sponsors. Ohio currently has none, as far as I know, though Tom Anderson
says that Tim Ryan has agreed to go on, and Jean Schmidt told Deborah
Kendrick and Sharri Albers that she would go on as well. We need to get our
representatives on as cosponsors. Clovernook has a few workers earning less
than  the minimum wage, but no other operation hiring blind workers in Ohio
is paying less than the minimum wage. That should make it pretty easy for
our reps to sign on. It will take no courage at all to do so. I am going to
append to this email the letter that President Maurer has sent to every
member of Congress refuting the arguments made by the Easter Seals and Good
Wills that count on paying as little as $.16 an hour to protect their
upper-level management salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Please
contact your member of Congress and urge him or her to contact Tim Bishop's
office for Dems and Cliff Stearns's office for Republicans to agree to sign
on to this bill. Here is the letter:

 

Dear United States Representative:

 

I am writing to you in support of H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with
Disabilities Act of 2011.  If you are already one of the cosponsors of this
bill, I thank you.  If you have not signed on as a cosponsor, I urge you to
do so as quickly as you can.  I am also writing to you representing disabled
Americans who are affected by subminimum wage payments who want this bill to
pass.  Furthermore, I am writing to you to sound the alarm against those who
say that they know better what to do for the disabled than disabled
Americans themselves.  They will tell you that disabled Americans cannot
speak for themselves and that they have taken on "this burden."  They are
trying to deny us our own voice in Congress and we ask you to listen to the
people, not to the self-appointed so-called spokesmen of the people.  

 

The National Federation of the Blind and the growing list of over forty
other organizations of disabled Americans that support this legislation are
well aware that those of you who are cosponsoring this legislation or
considering doing so are receiving considerable pressure from
representatives of sheltered workshops and others holding special wage
certificates that allow them to pay less than the federal minimum wage.  You
are being told that the workers who receive subminimum wages in the
sheltered workshop system have nowhere else to go, and that their lives
would be destroyed by H.R. 3086.  Those of you from Missouri, in fact, may
have received a piece of correspondence that asks, "Where will Sammy, Patti,
and Becky go when you eliminate their jobs?"  This flyer also contains
quotes from parents, siblings, and caregivers of sheltered workshop
employees, wondering what H.R. 3086 will mean for their loved ones.  

 

Whatever the motives of the people behind it, the correspondence is based on
outdated ideas about the capacity of workers with disabilities and a
misguided commitment to an antiquated model of service to such workers.
Rather than participating in a constructive dialogue about what life will be
like for workers with disabilities, once the subminimum wage exemption is
phased out in three years as required by H.R. 3086, the workshops choose to
circulate correspondence meant to pull on your heartstrings, to evoke your
pity, and to promote low expectations.  

 




United States Representative

February 23, 2012

Page two

 

 

The argument of the sheltered workshops is that some people, particularly
those with severe developmental disabilities, are simply unfit for
competitive employment.  

This is simply wrong.  To continue this practice when proven employment
strategies exist is inexcusable.  

 

We are also told that these individuals must be given a choice.  We are all
for freedom of choice, but true freedom of choice can only come with
unbiased and accurate information.  Do Sammy, Patti, and Becky know that
people like them are in fact working in competitive jobs?  Do they know that
services like supported employment are already available to help them
acquire and keep such jobs?  Do their parents, guardians, and loved ones
know this?  My experience tells me that they do not. Rather, they have far
more likely been told by sheltered workshop staff-who all too often share
society's low expectations for disabled people and have an obvious conflict
of interest-that Sammy, Patti, and Becky will never achieve competitive
employment and that the sheltered workshop is the best they can hope for.
In short, what they have been told is neither accurate nor unbiased.  

 

Despite the manipulative tone of the correspondence, however, it is fair
enough to ask what will happen to Sammy, Patti, and Becky and others like
them if this bill passes.  I believe that the answer to this question is
limited only by the spirit, ambition, and imagination of disabled workers
themselves, and by our willingness as a society to work hard to help them
succeed in their goals.  I believe that disabled workers can do far better
than receiving pennies per hour.  Under this bill, they will either earn
real wages in the workshops that currently employ them, or they will receive
the training and support that they need to obtain competitive employment
somewhere else.  Imagine for a moment that all of the government and
philanthropic resources that are currently supporting the sheltered workshop
system were redirected to finding real employment opportunities for people
with disabilities.  If they were, I suspect that solutions as yet undreamt
of would emerge to help such individuals succeed in competitive employment
situations.  

 

The sheltered workshop industry has existed for over seventy years.  Many
argue that it is an acceptable status quo, which must not be changed.  We
reject this formulation.  Even if you believe that those of us advocating
against subminimum wages do not have all the answers, this is no excuse for
allowing the system to continue.  The current practice of paying subminimum
wages is unfair, discriminatory, and immoral, and no amount of hand-wringing
about what may follow it can change that.  Please do not simply let inertia
direct our course.  We are urging you and other willing partners, including
any from the sheltered workshop industry, to work with us to find real
solutions for people like Sammy, Patti, and Becky, rather than shrugging
your




United States Representative

February 23, 2012

Page three

 

 

shoulders and saying that the exploitation must continue because we as a
society will not expend the effort to come up with anything better.  

 

There was a time in our nation's history when African-Americans were
believed to have limited capacity and were fit only for slave labor on
plantations.  There was a time when women were thought capable only of
maintaining the family home, and thus were not even permitted to vote.
Fortunately we realized as a nation that it was bigotry and low expectations
that were defining the roles of African-Americans and women rather than
their true capabilities.  We realized, albeit belatedly, that America would
be a better nation if the true capacities of these citizens were unleashed.
Americans with disabilities are now calling upon our fellow citizens to
realize that the soft bigotry of low expectations is condemning workers with
disabilities to near-slave labor, and that the system that arises from these
low expectations must be abolished.  

 

H.R. 3086 allows for a grace period of three years before sheltered
workshops and other nonprofit employers currently holding special wage
certificates must begin to pay their workers at least the federal minimum
wage.  This is plenty of time for sheltered workshops to study the business
models of similar entities that are already paying their employees
competitive wages and make adjustments to their own policies and practices.
Meanwhile, policy makers can redirect resources to enhance programs like
supported employment, and create new solutions, to help workers with
disabilities transition to real work for real wages.  

 

As for freedom of choice: I am a person with a disability.  I have been
blind all of my life.  I know the pain and despair that comes with low
expectations and prejudice.  Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to
make real choices about my life and career, and to experience the joy of the
accomplishments that can only come through full and equal participation in
society.  I want Sammy, Patti, and Becky to have the choices that I had.  If
workers with disabilities truly want to stay in the sheltered workshop that
currently employs them, or a facility like it, then no one will prohibit
them from doing so.  However, if H.R. 3086 is enacted, wherever they choose
to work, they will receive real wages that allow them to live fuller lives.
They will know the satisfaction of receiving the equal pay for equal work
that they deserve, in addition to any satisfaction that they may receive
from getting out of the house and being among their friends.  They will no
longer be dependent upon the resources of their loved ones or on public
assistance in order to buy the things they need.  They will have disposable
income to spend in the community, thereby contributing to our society and
its economy.  They will go from a subsistent existence to one in which they
can enjoy taking in a movie with their friends, an occasional restaurant
meal, and all of the other small pleasures of life that other American
workers take for granted.  They will become free people with real choices,
not virtual slaves with false ones.  




United States Representative

February 23, 2012

Page four

 

 

On behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, the over forty other
organizations that support this bill, and the millions of disabled people we
represent, we urge you to join us in our effort to change the paradigm of
low expectations and kindly meant but devastating exploitation that has too
long dominated the lives of over three hundred thousand Americans with
disabilities.  We ask you to express the courage to support H.R. 3086 and
the creativity to seek solutions that allow Americans with disabilities to
become productive citizens.  I thank you for your attention to this urgent
matter.  

 

Sincerely,

 

     

 

Marc Maurer, President

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND

 

 

 

Barbara Pierce

Braille Monitor

237 Oak Street

Oberlin, OH 44074

Phone/fax: 440-775-2216

 <mailto:bpierce at nfb.org> bpierce at nfb.org

 

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