On Thursday, August 28, 2014, the National Federation of the Blind conducted an informational protest outside the national office of SourceAmerica in Vienna, Virginia. SourceAmerica, formerly the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, or NISH, is responsible for distributing government contracts to nonprofits that employ Americans with disabilities.
The National Federation of the Blind picketed SourceAmerica because SourceAmerica chooses to distribute contracts to nonprofits that hold special wage certificates which allow entities to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage. Paying people with disabilities subminimum wages should be illegal, but Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows entities to do just that.
To add insult to injury, SourceAmerica is actively lobbying against HR 831, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. When passed, this legislation will phase out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Additionally, staff of the National Federation of the Blind discovered, in reviewing SourceAmerica’s IRS Form 990 (a tax form that nonprofits must complete), that over one hundred employees at its national office make over $100,000 a year, while workers at nonprofits that SourceAmerica supports fulfill government contracts by paying people with disabilities subminimum wages, sometimes pennies per hour.
On the day of the protest, for blocks in all directions, over one hundred people with disabilities could be heard chanting, “Equal work, equal pay.” Horns were honked by commuters to show their support for fair wages for workers with disabilities. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) was not the only group protesting SourceAmerica. The Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst (APSE) and the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) joined the National Federation of the Blind in showing their support at the protest, while ADAPT, Little People of America, and TASH endorsed the event.
Many passionate speeches about the need to repeal Section 14(c) were given. Mr. Jesse Hartle was the master of ceremonies and introduced speakers including: Dr. Fred Schroeder, first vice president of the NFB; Mr. Kelly Buckland, executive director of the NCIL; Ms. Rose Sloan, government affairs specialist for the NFB; Mr. John Paré, executive director for advocacy and policy for the NFB; Mr. Sean Whalen, president of the National Association of Blind Students; Mr. Kevan Worley, board member of the NFB of Colorado; Mr. Charlie Brown, former president of the NFB of Virginia; Dr. Marc Maurer, immediate past president of the NFB; Mr. Shawn Callaway, president of the NFB of DC; and Mr. Ryley Newport, public policy associate of APSE. The event was concluded by an impassioned speech by National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono.
Colorful signs that read: “Same jobs deserve same pay,” “Low expectations lead to low productivity,” “Proper training creates productive employees,” “SourceAmerica exploits people with disabilities,” and “Minimum wage should protect everyone,” were visible to SourceAmerica staff working in the office as well as many commuters who passed on the four-lane street. People whose curiosity was sparked by the protest were given a flyer titled: “SourceAmerica: the Source of America’s Discrimination Against People with Disabilities” [this flyer is found immediately following this article]. Throughout the event, protest songs such as “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Blue Collar Man,” and “9 to 5” were interspersed among the speeches and chants.
Most importantly, many people who before August 28 likely thought SourceAmerica provided good employment opportunities for people with disabilities learned about SourceAmerica’s exploitative policy of supporting nonprofits that pay Americans with disabilities less than the minimum wage. The National Federation of the Blind and its partner organizations made a loud and clear statement: we will not tolerate any organization that endorses subminimum wages for people with disabilities.
Since 1938 Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act has allowed entities to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage. However, just because it is legal does not mean it is right. With proper training and support, individuals with all types of disabilities can be productive employees who earn at least the minimum wage. SourceAmerica refuses to adopt 21st century business models and instead chooses to support this antiquated and discriminatory provision.
URGE SourceAmerica to adopt 21st century business practices that provide the education, training, and support for Americans with disabilities to be productive and valuable employees, and to support fair wages for workers with disabilities.
For more information visit <www.nfb.org/fair-wages> or call the National Federation of the Blind at (410) 659-9314, extension 2330.