Thursday, February 21, 2019

New law could eliminate disability minimum wage loophole

  Earlier this month, Representative Bobby Scott (D-IL) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation to eliminate the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities. The bill, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, phases out section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which made it legal for certified “sheltered workshops” to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

  This means the estimated 400,000 people with disabilities who are paid an average of $2.15 an hour will slowly gain access to jobs that pay the full minimum wage. That’s a big deal, especially to people like George, who used to work in a sheltered workshop run by Melwood, the company where Cari serves as president and CEO.

  George used to get nervous at work exactly twice a year. He’d held the same job providing cleaning services at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development since 2008, but since Melwood was a sheltered workshop, George could be paid less than the minimum wage. The only way for him to avoid that was to test well at time trials held every six months. If he completed his work quickly enough, he was paid at a fixed rate. If he was too slow, he’d be paid a subminimum wage.

  Today, we recognize that type of testing as cruel. But Melwood was established in 1963 by families who wanted to provide their children with developmental disabilities with opportunities to gain skills, have a vocation, and earn a wage. At the time, this was considered progressive — many people with disabilities ended up warehoused in institutions, and these families simply wanted to be able to keep them at home. But as disability policy has evolved, disabled people have been able to demand more — including access to jobs that pay well enough that workers can support themselves. Society changed, and programs like Melwood had to change with it.

  In 2016, Melwood got on board. It relinquished the 14(c) certificate that classified it as a sheltered workshop and transitioned to paying all of its employees with disabilities competitive wages in integrated settings.

  There were supports in place to make it work: The University Centers on Disability, Parent Training and Information Centers, and Protection and Advocacy Network all provide supports and services to help people move to integrated employment. Oregon and other states have demonstrated the ability for disabled workers to achieve successful outcomes transitioning to competitive integrated employment when state Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies and Intellectual/Developmental Disability Services work together.

  In 2019, people with disabilities should not be facing futures with segregation and subminimum wages. They should be allowed to reach their full potential in a competitive integrated environment. They should earn a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

  About the author: Rebecca Cokley is the director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress.

  This article was published by

No comments:

Post a Comment