Braille Monitor                                                March 2013

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The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013

Current labor laws unjustly prohibit workers with disabilities
from reaching their full socioeconomic potential.

Written in 1938, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discriminates against people with disabilities by allowing the secretary of labor to grant Special Wage Certificates to employers, permitting them to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage. Despite enlightened civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, this antiquated provision is still in force, with some disabled workers making only three cents an hour.

The subminimum wage model actually benefits the employer, not the worker. Subminimum wage employers receive taxpayer and philanthropic dollars because the public believes they are providing training and employment for people with disabilities. The executives use the substantial proceeds to compensate themselves with six-figure salaries on the backs of disabled workers they pay pennies per hour. People who raise their own standard of living while taking advantage of those who do not have the same rights as every other American are engaging in discrimination, not charity.

This discrimination persists because of the myths that Section 14(c) is:

Myth 1…a compassionate offering of meaningful work. Although the entities that engage in this practice demand the benefits that come from being recognized as employers, subminimum wage work is not true employment. These so-called employers offer days filled with only repetitive drudgery for which workers are compensated with third-world wages, leading disabled employees toward learned incapacity and greater dependence on social programs.

Myth 2…an employment training tool for disabled workers. Fewer than 5 percent of workers with disabilities in subminimum wage workshops will transition into integrated competitive work. In fact data show that they must unlearn the skills they acquire in a subminimum wage workshop in order to obtain meaningful employment. Therefore Section 14(c) is a training tool that perpetuates ongoing underemployment.

Myth 3…a controversial issue among the disability community. More than fifty disability-related organizations and counting support the repeal of Section 14(c) of the FLSA, and many former subminimum wage employers have abandoned the use of the Special Wage Certificate without terminating anyone. Only entities profiting from this exploitive practice refuse to acknowledge that it is discrimination.

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013:

Discontinues the practice of issuing Special Wage Certificates. The secretary of labor will no longer issue Special Wage Certificates to new applicants.

Phases out all remaining Special Wage Certificates over a three-year period. Entities currently holding Special Wage Certificates will begin compensating their workers with disabilities at no less than the federal minimum wage, using the following schedule:

Repeals Section 14(c) of the FLSA. Three years after the law is enacted, the practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wages will be officially abolished, and workers with disabilities will no longer be excluded from the workforce protection of a federal minimum wage.

Create opportunities for real work at real wages.

Cosponsor the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.

For more information contact:
Anil Lewis, Director of Advocacy and Policy
National Federation of the Blind
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2374 email: <[email protected]>


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