FAIR WAGES FOR WORKERS WITH DISABILITIES
The Issue | Supporting Organizations | Petition | Section 511 | Special Wage Certificates| Goodwill | Research | In the News| Background and History | Articles | Press Releases | Policy Statements | Contact
The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013 (H.R. 831)
Current labor laws unjustly prohibit workers with disabilities from reaching their full vocational and socioeconomic potential.
Written in 1938, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discriminates against people with disabilities. The provision allows the Secretary of Labor to grant to employers Special Wage Certificates that permit them to pay workers with disabilities subminimum wages (wages that are less than the federal minimum wage) primarily in sheltered workshops (segregated work environments). This is based on the false assumption that disabled workers are less productive than nondisabled workers, which has been disproven by the successful employment models that have emerged in the last seventy-five years to assist people with significant disabilities in acquiring the job skills needed for competitive work. Section 14(c) sustains segregated subminimum-wage workshops that exploit disabled workers, paying some only pennies per hour for mundane, repetitive tasks.
This discriminatory policy is not necessary for the successful operation of a disability-training program. The overwhelming majority of Goodwill Industries and National Industries for the Blind (NIB) affiliates operate successfully without paying subminimum wages. Countless entities have successfully transitioned their subminimum-wage business model of low expectations to an innovative model of competitive, integrated training and employment, meeting the growing needs of mainstream employers with the proven talents of employees with disabilities. Only outdated workshops argue they will be unable to manage worthwhile programs without the use of the Special Wage Certificates.
The subminimum-wage model fails to provide adequate training or employment to disabled workers. Data shows that less than 5 percent of the four-hundred thousand workers with disabilities in segregated subminimum-wage workshops will transition into competitive integrated work. Moreover, research shows that the subminimum wage model costs more, but actually produces less! In fact, workers must unlearn the useless skills they acquire in order to obtain meaningful employment. It is poor policy to reward such failed programs with wage exemptions, preferential federal contracts, and public and charitable contributions.
After seventy-five years of demonstrated failure, it is time to invest in proven, effective models for employment. Section 14(c) sustains the same segregated, subminimum-wage environments that existed in 1938. This discriminatory model has proven to be extremely ineffective and offers no incentive for mainstream employers to hire people with disabilities. The Employment First Movement promotes new concepts, such as “supported” or “customized” employment, which are successful at producing competitive, integrated employment outcomes for individuals with significant disabilities who were previously thought to be unemployable.
The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013 (H.R. 831) has been introduced by Congressman Gregg Harper. The bill, when passed, will responsibly phase out and eventually repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. As a result, individuals with the most significant disabilities will no longer be trapped in the segregated subminimum-wage workshops that have been proven to cost more and produce very poor outcomes. Current service providers will have three years to transition to a proven competitive integrated training and employment business model that assists individuals with even the most significant disabilities obtain real jobs at real wages. Organizations opposing the adoption of this proven model only demonstrate their lack of expertise in the field of employment of people with disabilities, their inability to be competitive with similarly situated organizations, and their unwillingness to meet the true calling of their charitable status.
To learn more about the issue and the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, please read our frequently asked questions document.
The following are letters supporting the repeal of Section 14(c) of the FLSA:
- Letter of Support Issued by National Disability Rights Network
- Letter of Support issued by Collaboration to Promote Self Determination
- Letter of Support issued by National Disability Leadership Alliance
- Letter of Support issued by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland
- Letter of Support issued by The Chicago Lighthouse
- Letter of Support issued by Peter Blanck, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University
- Action Alert to stop the expansion of subminimum wage issued by TASH
- Letter of Support issued by Disability Rights Advocates
- Letter of Support issued by the New York State Office of Children & Family Services, Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped
You can now support the effort of the National Federation of the Blind to eliminate the practice of paying wages below the federal minimum to workers with disabilities by signing our online petition. Please sign the petition and share it with all of your colleagues, friends, and family.
The National Federation of the Blind, along with a growing number of other disability organizations, is opposed to language in the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), S. 1356, which would reauthorize the Rehabilitation Act (Title V.) with a provision that would authorize rehab agencies to place disabled workers in subminimum-wage employment, and move the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) from the Department of Education to the Department of Labor. For our full comments on these proposed changes, please read the letter sent on July 19, 2013, to the Senate HELP Committee and our #FIXWIA blog post. More information can also be found in the links below.
- Legal Analysis by Samuel R. Bagenstos: Section 511 is Not a Step Forward
The Hill (07/30/2013): Don't Sabotage the Rehabilitation Act
- NFB Press Release (08/14/2013): National Federation of the Blind Releases Analysis of Section 511
- NFB Press Release (07/29/2013): National Federation of the Blind: Workforce Investment Act Sabotages Rehabilitation Act
- List of organizations opposing Section 511 of Title V of the Workforce Investment Act
Goodwill is a household name, but most households do not realize that Goodwill Industries International is one of the many employers that pay less than the federal minimum wage to its workers with disabilities while its top executives receive more than $53.7 million in total compensation. This fact was exposed by John Hrabe in the story "Policies, tax dollars enrich Goodwill execs," published by Watchdog.org in early May 2013.
Subsequently, Goodwill’s use of this practice, and attempts to defend it, were highlighted by NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams on June 21, 2013, with the story, “Disabled workers paid just pennies an hour-and it's legal.”
Goodwill, in its attempt to represent Section 14(c) as an essential tool for the provision of quality training or competitive employment of people with disabilities, actually demonstrates that entities can operate successfully without paying subminimum wages. Goodwill states that 101 of its affiliates operate successfully without paying subminimum wages to their workers with disabilities. However, rather than adopting a policy to require the other sixty-four affiliates to operate in a similar fashion, the Goodwill representatives state that it is a local decision for these affiliates to pay their workers with disabilities subminimum wages, and that they support this choice. In order to effect change in this policy, we are urging people not to shop at thrift stores affiliated with Goodwill Industries International and/or donate goods to Goodwill until it adopts a policy requiring each of its affiliates to pay at least the federal minimum wage to all of their workers with disabilities.
On Saturday, August 25, 2012, the NFB and its affiliates and chapters conducted over ninety informational protests of Goodwill thrift store locations across the country. The purpose of the protests was to promote public awareness of the unfair, discriminatory, and immoral practice of paying subminimum wages to workers with disabilities.
On October 31, 2013, members of the NFB, along with representatives of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), unmasked Goodwill's exploitation of workers with disabilities by delivering copies of a Change.org petition to various Goodwill headquarters across the country. The petition had already garnered 170,000 signatures from Americans who demand that Goodwill pay its workers with disabilities a real wage.
To stay up-to-date on the protest and boycott activities, please follow @NFB_Voice on Twitter. Please use the hash tag #fairwages and Goodwill’s Twitter handle of @GoodwillIntl to monitor and post about local protests and boycott on your own Twitter accounts. You may also become a fan of the National Federation of the Blind on Facebook, and post comments to Goodwill’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/GoodwillIntl.
- National Federation of the Blind Analysis of Section 511 with Bill Language
- United States General Accounting Office (GOA) Report to the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives: Wage and Hour Division Needs Improved Investigative Processes and Ability to Suspend Statute of Limitations to Better Protect Workers Against Wage Theft
- Congressional Research Service Report: Treatment of Workers with Disabilities Under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act
- United States General Accounting Office (GOA) Report to The Honorable Barry M. Goldwater, Jr.: Stronger Federal Efforts Needed for Providing Employment Opportunities and Enforcing Labor Standards in Sheltered Workshops
- United States General Accounting Office (GOA) Report to Congressional Requesters: Special Minimum Wage Program
- Study: Do sheltered workshops enhance employment outcomes for adults with autism spectrum disorder?
- A report by National Disability Rights Network: Beyond Segregated and Exploited
- A report by National Disability Rights Network: Segregated & Exploited
- Letter of Transmittal to President Barack Obama from the National Council on Disability re: Subminimum Wage and Supported Employment
- A report by Samuel R. Bagenstos, former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice: The Case Against the Section 14(c) Subminimum Wage Program
- An article by Michael Callahan, Marc Gold & Associates/Employment for All: The Productivity Fallacy: Why people are worth more than just how fast their hands move
- YouTube (04/11/2014): American Workers Speak Out Against Subminimum Wages
- Fortune (02/12/2014): Disabled workers left in the cold on minimum wage
- Wisconsin Public Radio (11/04/2013): Does Goodwill Pay Unfair Wages to Workers with Disabilities?
- Truth-out.org (11/01/2013): Activists Petition Goodwill to Pay Disabled Workers the Minimum Wage
- KFOR-TV (11/01/2013): Goodwill Industries accused of unethical pay to disabled workers
- Salt Lake Tribune (10/31/2013): Utah group delivers petition demanding equal wages for the blind
- Cal Watchdog.com (10/31/2013): Disability groups deliver petitions to Goodwill
- Forbes.com (07/31/2013): Does Goodwill Industries Exploit Disabled Workers?
- Salon.com (06/21/2013): Goodwill Pays its Workers with Disabilities As Little As 22 Cents an Hour
- Rock Center with Brian Williams (06/21/2013): Disabled workers paid just pennies an hour-and it's legal
- Huffington Post (05/20/2013): Goodwill Exploits Workers With Disabilities, Report Claims
- Huffington Post (05/15/2013): Goodwill Minimum Wage Loophole Will Shock You
- Jewish Week (04/08/2013): Compassion Can Be Discrimination
- Yahoo! Voices (09/18/2012): The Labor Protest We All Should Support
- MLive.com (09/07/2012): Protest planned for grand opening of Goodwill's new location in Metro Detroit
- Associated Press (08/27/2012): Goodwill Industries criticized for workshop wages
- Des Moines Register (08/26/2012): Disabled worker pay law assailed
- The Sun News (08/26/2012): Grand Strand residents protest disabled employee wages
- The Gazette (08/26/2012): Group protests Goodwill wages
- WYFF 4 (08/26/2012): Legally blind protesters call for better wages outside Goodwill
- Albany Herald (08/25/2012): Group stages minimum wage protest
- KAKE.com (08/25/2012): Kansans Join National Protest Against Goodwill
- WMBF News (08/25/2012): Residents protest disabled employees pay from Goodwill stores
- Daily Herald (08/25/2012): Group protests wages outside Des Plaines Goodwill
- CBSDenver.com (08/25/2012): Group Protests Goodwill For Paying Disabled Workers Under Minimum Wage
- WTVR.com (08/25/2012): A national disability group protests against Goodwill's practices
- TwinCities.com (08/24/2012): Organization for blind will protest at Goodwill in St. Paul
- NC Times (08/24/2012): Activists to protest Goodwill paying disabled below minimum wage
- WUSA9 (06/08/2012): Goodwill Pays Disabled Workers Less Than Minimum Wage
- Sheltered Workshops and the Subminimum Wage: What Goes Around Comes Around (Braille Monitor, March 1986)
- Fair Labor Standards Amendments Open New Doors For Shop Workers (Braille Monitor, January 1987)
- Victory for Workshop Workers and the National Federation of the Blind in Lubbock (Braille Monitor, February 1989)
- Fair Labor Standards: What Blind People Need to Know About Their Rights (Braille Monitor, December 1990)
- Wage Protection for Blind Workers: The Legislative Struggle Begins Again (Braille Monitor, June 1994)
A Voice of the Nation's Blind blog post (11/15/2013): 75 Years of the Fair Labor Standards Act and People with Disabilities Have No Reason to Celebrate
A Voice of the Nation's Blind blog post (10/29/2013): Unmasking the Exploitation of Workers with Disabilities
A Voice of the Nation's Blind blog post (06/21/2013): The Sin of Omission: A Rebuttal of Goodwill's Policy Statement on Subminimum Wage Payments to Workers with Disabilities
A Voice of the Nation's Blind blog post (04/22/2013) Victims of the Exemption
A Voice of the Nation's Blind blog post (04/15/2013) The Commensurate Wage Fallacy
- A Voice of the Nation's Blind blog post (11/01/2012): We're Not Giving Up
- A February 23, 2012 letter from Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the NFB, to the House of Representatives re: Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities
- An article by Anil Lewis, Director of Strategic Communications, NFB: Fair Wages for People with Disabilities (Braille Monitor, November 2011)
- A Speech Delivered by Frederic K. Schroeder, Ph.D. (07/08/2011): No More Subminimum Wages: The Time is Now!
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (10/31/2013): National Federation of the Blind to Unmask Goodwill's Exploitation of Workers with Disabilities
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (07/29/2013): National Federation of the Blind: Workforce Investment Act Sabotages Rehabilitation Act
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (02/27/2013): National Federation of the Blind Applauds Introduction of Fair Wages Legislation
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (08/20/2012): Americans with Disabilities to Protest Goodwill's Subminimum Wages
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (06/20/2012): Governor Paterson Calls for At Least Minimum Wage for Disabled Workers
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (06/11/2012): National Federation of the Blind Responds to Goodwill Statement on Subminimum Wages
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (06/07/2012): National Federation of the Blind Urges Boycott of Goodwill Industries
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (10/04/2011): U.S. Representatives Stearns and Bishop Introduce Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act
- National Federation of the Blind Press Release (07/25/2011): Former New York Governor Comments on Subminimum Wages for Disabled Workers
- National Federation of the Blind Resolution 2012-01: Regarding Support for the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011
- National Federation of the Blind Resolution 2011-09: Regarding Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities
- National Federation of the Blind Resolution 2011-17: Regarding the Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization
- National Federation of the Blind Resolution 2010-11: Regarding National Industries for the Blind and the Definition of "Employment Outcome" in the Vocational Rehabilitation Program
For further information on this important issue, please contact:
Director of Advocacy and Policy
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2374
Governmental Affairs Specialist
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2441
For future updates, please follow NFB_Voice on Twitter (and please use the hashtag #fairwages when posting about this issue), or sign up to receive our press releases. Please help us to achieve true equality for Americans with disabilities.