In a recent discussion with People First of Ohio members about the payment of subminimum wages to employees with disabilities, the response I heard from a board member was “we’re either seen and treated as equal human beings, or we’re not”. A civil rights issue in 2021.
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have often benefitted from civil rights causes as unintended consequences. Some legislation has passed which attempted to protect, but never went far enough. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 supposedly ensures the right to work without discrimination based upon disability (https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v39i4.6604), the payment of subminimum wages to employees continues.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 was an attempt to develop a fair wage for employees, yet within the still-current legislation there is a provision for employers of workers with disabilities to pay their employees subminimum wages, less than what is considered “prevailing wage” (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/field-operations-handbook/Chapter-14#B14c00). Employers must file for a 14(c) certificate with the Department of Labor and complete time-studies for tasks that show the comparison of an employee without disabilities to tasks completed by employees with disabilities.
Since the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, no new certificates may be issued (https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/wioa). APSE reported a total of 873 active certificates in 2020 (https://apse.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/APSE-14c-Update-0721.pdf). Although the trend is a decline in the use of subminimum wage, the goal is 0%.
We may say that “The Time Is Now” to end the practice of paying employees with disabilities subminimum and substandard wages. Yet, for those who have been stuck in this system with feelings of being treated as sub-human and “less than”, today is not soon enough.
“People First of Ohio values all employees with disabilities and supports Ohio’s Employment First Initiative. Therefore, People First calls for the elimination of all subminimum wages and of 14(c) certificates which allow employers to legally pay less than minimum wage.” (www.peoplefirstohio.org)
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Kraig Walker, People First of Ohio Coordinator