[Mdabs] FW: [State-affiliate-leadership-list] Top Democrats Differ On Ending Subminimum Wage For Workers With Disabilities
Melissa Ann Riccobono
melissa at riccobono.us
Thu Mar 14 16:16:52 UTC 2013
This is fascinating reading. It just goes to show we have more educating to
[mailto:state-affiliate-leadership-list-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2013 9:20 AM
To: Lewis, Anil
Subject: [State-affiliate-leadership-list] Top Democrats Differ On Ending
Subminimum Wage For Workers With Disabilities
Top Democrats Differ On Ending Subminimum Wage For Workers With Disabilities
By Mike Elk <http://inthesetimes.com/community/profile/86504>
Democratic Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (speaking here in December in defense of
Medicaid) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif) announced last week a proposal to
increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10. But will people with
disabilities be left out? (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama
called for increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour. On
Tuesday, Congressional Democrats did him one better, unveiling a plan to
raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as well as raise the subminimum
wage for tipped workers from $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the minimum
Their proposal, however, would not cover the 420,000 Americans
<http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/August232012/> with disabilities who
are currently paid a subminimum wage of as little as a few cents per hour in
some state-sponsored "sheltered workshops," such as Goodwill. These
programs, licensed under provision 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act of
1938, are intended to be for training, but many workers wind up as perpetual
"trainees," employed in sheltered workshops for years earning subminimium
wage rates; thus becoming stuck in a cycle of poverty. While advocates have
repeatedly tried to address this issue divides within both the Democratic
Party and the disability community have so far prevented these laws from
being sensibly revised.
Many advocates for the disabled have called for the 14c provision to be
eliminated, suggesting that having Americans with disabilities work in
sheltered workplaces often run by nonprofits or the state can cause as many
problems as it solves.
"There are two big problems," says Barb Trader, executive director of TASH,
an international advocacy group for persons with disabilities. "One is that
they are segregated from society forever when they are in a sheltered
workshop. The rest of us make friends and colleagues through our work. Work
really defines so much of who we are. The other problem is lifelong poverty
because there is no way these people are going to be able to achieve any
type of sufficiency economically."
In addition to the segregation and poverty engendered by sheltered
workplaces, many advocates say workers with disabilities often face
exploitation. In 2009, Iowa shut down a "bunkhouse
ted-and-Exploited.pdf> "--essentially, a shed--where 60 men with
disabilities employed by the meat processor Henry Turkey Services were
forced to sleep. The bunkhouse was unheated, poorly insulated and infested
with cockroaches. The company deducted $10,000 a week from the paychecks of
the workers housed in the bunkhouse.
Aside from the deplorable housing conditions, the 60 workers with
disabilities were paid only $0.41 an hour to work alongside abled workers
who were earning between $9 and $12 an hour. Since workers with disabilities
are often employed in jobs that would normally pay minimum wage, many in
organized labor have called for the subminimum wages for workers with
disabilities to be repealed.
"Over 100,000 SEIU members support people with disabilities so they can live
fulfilling lives as part of their communities," says SEIU spokesperson Arvil
Smith. "We believe the well-being of workers and the people our members
support are inextricably linked. These values inform SEIU members'
commitment to ending wage discrimination against workers with disabilities.
Equal pay for equal work is a matter of basic fairness. That means no person
with a disability who wishes to work should be denied the assistance they
need to secure employment in the general workforce at minimum wage or
In addition to labor unions and some disability groups, the independent
federal agency the National Council on Disability (NCD) has called for
phasing out the 14c exemption of the minimum wage law.
"In 2010, statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that nearly
28 percent of Americans with disabilities aged 18 to 64 live in poverty,"
read a statement by the NCD <http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/021413> released
after President Obama's State of the Union address. "Today, hundreds of
thousands of Americans with disabilities earn less than minimum wage under a
little-known relic of employment policy that assumed people with
disabilities were not capable of meaningful, competitive employment."
Despite this opposition, closing the loophole for workers with disabilities
does not appear to be on the table in talks about raising the minimum wage.
The tension was on display Tuesday when Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman
of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) committee, and
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), senior Democratic member of the House
Committee on Education and the Workforce, introduced their bill to increase
the minimum wage. Asked whether the exemption for people with disabilities
should be repealed, Rep. Miller said, "We should expect that to be part of
this debate. It always is." He added that he agreed with the NCD's stance.
Sen. Harkin, however, does not agree. "Philosophically, Sen. Harkin would
prefer that no person be paid less than minimum wage under any
circumstances, but he has heard from a number of advocates for people with
disabilities that eliminating the subminimum wage option without having a
real plan to create sustainable employment alternatives would be detrimental
to Americans with disabilities currently working in 14(c) settings," wrote
Allison Preiss, spokesperson for Sen. Harkin, in an email to Working In
These Times following the Tuesday announcement. "Sen. Harkin is trying to
change the subminimum wage program so that young people are not tracked into
subminimum wage jobs without having a chance to experience competitive,
integrated employment; and he's working to promote upward mobility for
people in those programs."
One of the disability advocates opposed to the change is Bobby Silverstein,
Harkin's former top disability staffer. Silverstein now works as a lobbyist
for ACCSES, a coalition of nonprofit groups that employ disabled workers.
"Would you hire somebody who is working at 30 percent and not meeting
productivity goals?" Silverstein asks rhetorically. "What if somebody is not
capable with or without an accommodation of working at a regular job?
Should we force them into a rehabilitation program with no work or sit at
home and watch TV? If you eliminated 14c, you would lose the opportunity for
these people to be trained to be employed."
But other advocates say that there is little evidence that 14c-sheltered
workplaces actually help workers with disabilities obtain jobs with standard
wages. A 2001 study by the federal General Accountability Office (GAO) found
that only 5 percent of workers
<http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/August232012/> employed in
14c-sheltered workplace programs left to take regular "integrated
employment" jobs. They often point to Vermont, which eliminated
14c-sheltered workplace programs in 2003 and focused instead on providing
wrap-around transition and job coaching services to disabled people and
their employers so they could maintain regular jobs. Today, 40 percent of
Vermonters <http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/August232012/sites/> with
disabilities are employed in "integrated employment" jobs, compared to only
20 percent of workers with disabilities nationwide.
Disability advocates say that the real reason why groups like ACCSES support
maintaining the 14c exemption is that they benefit financially from it. For
instance, the CEO of Goodwill, one of the biggest employers of people with
disabilities, makes more than $500,000 each year
aying-less/15827/> while some blind Goodwill workers are paid only $1.44 an
"I think it has a lot to do with money," says Trader. "For ACCSES, it is
about their business strategy. There is not an argument in the research or
among the self-advocacy community for continuing the 14c program. People
with disabilities are saying close those things down and divert the money
into more productive ways of supporting people in getting real jobs."
Mr. Anil Lewis, M.P.A.
Director of Advocacy and Policy
"Eliminating Subminimum Wages for People with Disabilities"
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
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
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