Activists align to stop sub-minimum wage pay for persons with disabilities
Paychecks amounting to less than $1 for a week’s worth of work and instances of employees being paid pennies an hour for their labor are just some of the reasons activists from all over the country, including Beaumont, are crying foul and calling for a boycott of organizations paying the sub-par wages.
Beaumont’s RISE – Resource, Information, Support and Empowerment Center has seen an influx of workers with disabilities sporting check stubs detailing wages that wouldn’t pay for a cup of coffee, Gracie Jackson told The Examiner. Jackson, a RISE independent living specialist and president of the Golden Triangle Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, said the problem is a national trend wherein businesses are allowed to pay workers with disabilities a rate below minimum wage.
“It’s not only immoral, it’s heartbreaking,” Jackson said. “Clients have informed me they have been paid, for a week’s work, five cents, 86 cents. (Name withheld) has told me he had to save about 10 checks to get about $15.”
Will work for pennies
Workers with disabilities are paid the wages through a waiver provided under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which, according to the Department of Labor, “authorizes employers to pay special minimum wages – wages less than the Federal minimum wage – to workers who have disabilities.” The exception is only granted to workers whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those relating to age or injury. Disabilities that may affect productive capacity, according to the DOL, include blindness, mental illness, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, alcoholism and drug addiction.
A report penned by Domestic Social Policy Division of Labor economics specialist William G. Whittaker for Congress in 2005 examined the Section 14(c) exemption law he was able to trace back to his roots in the 1933-1935 National Industrial Recovery Act.“Under the NIRA, a productivity-based sub-minimum wage, arranged through a system of certificates, was established for persons with disabilities. In competitive industry, such workers were payable at 75 percent of the industry minimum. In sheltered workshops, there was no wage floor,” Whittaker wrote.
After the NIRA was declared unconstitutional in 1935, the special wage waiver was incorporated into the 1938 FLSA and has remained virtually unchanged for the last 60-plus years other than there is now no floor on the wages that can be paid under the certification.
“The option of paying lower wages, some argue, encourages employers more readily to hire the disabled and to spend the time to deal with their presumed idiosyncrasies,” he stated. “Some argue that the sub-minimum wage option inflicts an additional burden: the disabled worker must prove that he is sufficiently productive to merit at least the minimum wage; a worker without a recognized disability is presumed to be worth at least the FLSA minimum.”
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