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Workers With Disabilities Left Out Of Obama Wage Plan


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President Barack Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to raise the minimum wage that federal contractors must pay their workers, but advocates say the plan leaves out many with disabilities. (Pool photo Larry Downing/Reuters/MCT)

President Barack Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to raise the minimum wage that federal contractors must pay their workers, but advocates say the plan leaves out many with disabilities. (Pool photo Larry Downing/Reuters/MCT)

Advocates are crying foul after learning that many individuals with disabilities will likely be left out of President Barack Obama’s plan to hike the minimum wage for federal contractors.

Obama said in his State of the Union address earlier this week that he will issue an executive order mandating that federal contractors pay their workers no less than $10.10 per hour.

“In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour — because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” Obama said.

But now advocates say they are being told that the plan excludes people with disabilities who currently earn less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

Employers — including many with federal government contracts — can obtain special permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to pay those with disabilities less than minimum wage under a provision that’s been in place since the 1930s. Many disability advocacy groups have urged an end to the policy in recent years arguing that it is outdated and unfairly encourages segregation.

It’s unclear how many people earn less than minimum wage as employees of federal contractors, but the AbilityOne Program, which facilitates federal contracts for employers of those with disabilities, says that nearly 50,000 people with disabilities were employed through its programs in 2012, many of whom are believed to be working for subminimum wage.

In a call this week with U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Vice President Joe Biden, disability advocates say they were told that the executive order would not alter the ability of approved federal contractors to continue paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage, though such workers could see a slight uptick in pay. That’s because subminimum wage is often calculated as a percentage of the pay that a typical worker would earn for the same job.

Now disability groups are uniting to ask Obama to reconsider.

“This may mean that a worker receiving pennies an hour today may receive a dime as a result of the executive order. Surely we can do better than this,” wrote Jeff Rosen, chairperson of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency tasked with advising Congress and the president on disability issues, in a letter to Perez and Obama.

Meanwhile, a separate letter to the administration organized by the Collaboration to Promote Self Determination has support from the Autism Society, the National Down Syndrome Congress, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and TASH, among others.

“All employees of federal contractors should mean all employees, regardless of disability status,” the letter says.

White House officials declined to offer specifics about the executive order Obama will issue, but said that any changes to the current subminimum wage laws would require action from Congress. Further details about the executive order will be released “in the near future,” an administration spokesman said.

Advocates insist, however, that the president does have the authority to act unilaterally.

“We believe that if they president has the power to require government contractors to pay a higher wage for workers without disabilities that he can do the same for workers with disabilities,” said Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

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Comments (18 Responses)

  1. Advocat says:

    I feel so crushed by the administration’s disinterest in helping people with Disabilities to earn more than sub-minimum wage. I guess even a President with minority status doesn’t care about us. There is no empathy. To add insult to injury people with disabilites are kept out of real federal jobs and real community based work by bigoted managers who want nothing to do with us simply becase of ignorance. If people with disabilities do not get jobs the facility based employment programs simply use that to thier benefit in the form of fear mongoring. The people who get SSI are living in great poverty. When they are only offered sub-minimum wages then they must continue this “state sanctioned” poverty and continued over reliance on the tax payers to keep them in poverty. So many people are advocating for an end to segregation and sub-minimum wage. The big box sheltered workshop lobyists are way ahead of us. Perhaps they even have the President’s ear.

  2. mamikaze says:

    This is just a hassle for those on SSDI/Medicaid. A wage increases puts your benefits at risk. The SSDI and DDA are backlogged enough. Is it prudent to create a storm of paperwork and scare people with disabilities away from steady jobs?

  3. advocate too says:

    Sub-minimum wage needs to be defined so the public understands it. It is based on the prevailing wage for an area/job type and is always well above minimum wage. it is an opportunity for a person with a severe disability to work; individuals in wheel chairs with severe CP and intellectual and developmental disabilities who may only be able to work at 20% and have limited opportunity to work in the community because of health issues and concerns. All others should be integrated into community work. Education needs to be done for the community to embrace people with disabilities and give those with subminimum production abilities because of their disability a chance.

  4. Paul G. Harvey says:

    Please, Please STOP and think before focusing on pay per hour. Yes, there are those who are developmentally disabled who can successfully hold a minimum wage or better job as long as they keep the number of days/hours per month below the level where they lose medical insurance or their employer provides medical insurance. BUT most people with developmental disabilities cannot successfully compete at that level or need a job coach to direct or redirect their activities or social interaction. Some are so involved socially or developmentally that they and their parent just need a place to look forward to. YES, there are some abuses by employers and some by parents who don’t want their adult to work less they think they will lose SSI money. The absolute WORSE case are those who can work don’t and just stay home.

    Our Legislative focus MUST be on changing the decades old formula for loss of SSI for wages earned NOT focus on minimum wage. Also on raising the cash limit of $2,000 to at least $4,000. IF WE DO NOT get this changed focusing on raising minimum wage will have two negative consequences 1) Already many who can work at minimum wage or above have to limit their hours of work per month or lose medical insurance – with upcoming minimum wage increase in many States and potentially the Federal minimums wage our these loved ones will have to reduce the number of hours worked per month and guess what stay at home more. 2) If an employee with developmental disabilities has to ask their employer to lower the number of hours they work in order for them to keep their insurance, the employer could say, “you know, I just can not cover the 10 or so hours you will leave unfilled, so it will be best for me to hire someone that can cover the hours per month I need covered.

    Please do not lump Day Programs, Work Shelters, and Sub-minimum wage groups into the same pot. My 32 year old son has been in all three. The Day Program if they have work pays very little, but without a place to go and without the social aspects of having something to look forward to it would make Parent’s lives much harder. Work Shelters can be very good or not so good often depending on the area they are in and the organization’s ability to find meaningful and consistent work. Yes, some hold back those who could work in a more integrated job, but here parents must step in and help their adult find those jobs even if they start in a supported employment sub-minimum wage group. For 15 years of my son’s life he has worked in an integrated setting of a large high tech company cafeteria with 12 of his fellow workers in a sub-minimum wage group working 96 hours a month making $6.41/hour. His work performance is reevaluated every 6 months as required by the Federal sub-minimum wage laws. My son cannot compete at a higher level due to his speed of work and his need for social redirections from time to time. He loves his job and hates to miss work excel for a camp one week a year. He feel needed – WHICH IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN
    $/HOUR! We are so proud of him.

    He can now afford to live in a supported living home and become more independent which is critical for aging parents such as ourselves.

  5. Justice Ender says:

    mamikaze, I’m sorry but you’re wrong.

    For people on SSDI, it’s unlikely that an increase to minimum wage would jeopardize SSDI checks for most people working part-time.

    For people who need Medicaid, depending on their benefit, 1619(b) or Medicaid Buy-In work incentives exist in the vast majority of states that would allow people to keep (or GET ON) Medicaid even if they were receiving $0 in disability checks.

    What’s keeping people from steady jobs is misinformation – like what you’re spreading.

  6. Emma says:

    Unbelievable, guess Obama isn’t president of all Americans, just those without disabilities. Truly disgusting, promoting sanctioned bias and prejudice against the most vulnerable class of people. Amazing that Obama was able to find poor and disadvantaged people to exclude from this executive order, and that it is so easy for him.

  7. Dadvocate says:

    “A few” disability advocates is far more accurate. The usual ideologues are using the welcome minimum wage hike (which WILL increase the wages of many people with disabilities) to revive their ongoing assault on the exemption program. While improvements to the program are welcome, it is far from the black and white narrative the NCD and their gang push. As mamikaze points out, the wages in the exemption program are structured so folks don’t lose other supports with income tests. Why on earth does the NCD want folks to potentially sacrifice their individual supports for a questionable political agenda? It’ll be telling to see if their former champion, Tom Perez, will or can act on this one now that he’s at Labor.

  8. Whitney says:

    I agree with the posters. As long as most people see people with disabilities can not do things as a normal person does things. We can say things but it is not listened too. If we add force behind the message they complain. I am doing this and from personal observation. What can person with autism do? In answer a lot things that most people cannot. Getting people acknowledge that will take something order of rebellion where hurts people in the pocket book. I am putting this in comic book format to bring awareness of what prejudice does exist. A lot NT get hurt but do I feel sorry for them no. Answer is do the NT feel sorry if person with disabilities get hurt. Apparently not. They do not listen or consider our needs within the community. When they scream foul why should we care. I heard their excuses it is same as the ones in 1950’s for African American man making same wage as White man “it takes food away from my children.” That excuse does not fly.

    I put this story in comic book to bring light to discrimination that people face with Autism in general society

  9. jane brooks says:

    I am putting the finishing touches on my sons due process with the Park 6 school district. On of the charges is the violation of his 13th amendment rights . A vocational program that requires all disabled persons to attend the one size fits all. Not volunteer work , for no pay, while denying them the right to education. I believe that fits the description. My son knew how to remove scum marks off the floor after one demonstration in the 6th grade. He has always be able to load paper in shredder, he can squirt off a table and wipe it down, he has been making cookies since preschool. He does laundry. He does not need to be denied the right to education to do the dirty work of the school. No books or work sheets .

  10. Borgi Beeler says:

    Section 14(c) of FSLA authorizes subminimum wages for people working at low productivity. It’s a complex process that requires lots of documentation. Employees that are able to work at 100% productivity for the job get paid the full wage. Only employees that are working at lower productivity get paid a percent of the wage equal to their ability to do the work. So think about this for a minute – if a person with a disability is able to do the job half as fast, he or she is able to work and get paid half the rate under 14(c). If that option is eliminated… how many employers are going to hire or keep a worker at 50% productivity on the job at all? Especially for federal contracts, when payment to the contractor is based on standards for each task and a required wage rate. I understand the frustration of people with disabilities that have felt discrimination, particularly people with disabilities that don’t hinder their ability to do a specific job. But as a provider of services and employer of people with cognitive disabilities, I know that elimination of the subminimum wage option will mean elimination of the opportunity to work for thousands of people. I wish that these disability organizations would think about the full consequences of their actions.

  11. Dadvocate says:

    NCD, ASAN and their usual allies have long opposed the existence of, and have fought hard to eliminate, the minimum wage exemption program. This initiative is nothing new. What I find most disturbing about this is NCD’s rigid pursuit of a one size fits all policy agenda, By this rigidity, NCD and others routinely and regularly ignore or minimize the impact many of their initiatives will have on people with severe developmental and intellectual disabilities.

    The freedom to make choices of all types and lives free from discrimination is essential, That’s the law of the land and rightly so. But it is also essential to have specialized programs (like the minimum wage exemption) and services in place and available for those who make a choice not to, or who are unable to, live fully independent lives or participate in the competitive workplace. A continuum of choice needs to be in place in employment, housing, and life. One size fits all policy is bad policy.

  12. gabriel says:

    surely the law applies to men and women equally? well, disabled “people” are men and women first disabled second, – how can they be excluded? Because they are on minimum wage? or because they cannot work at all? it makes sense to me that they should have EXTRA care not less. what are these bureaucrats thinking?

  13. Mike J says:

    Employees with disabilities working competitively are not excluded from the Executive Order. Furthermore no one is required to work for a sub-minimum wage. Sub-minimum wages are based on the worker’s productivity. Many workers with significant intellectual disabilities would not have the opportunity to be employed without the provisions provided under the DOL that allow a sub-minimum wage. This article does not even begin to tell the whole story, though “pennies an hour” makes good fodder.

  14. Whitney says:

    It is a problem that most see one size fits all. I am sorry disabilities people and I being honest here are not always strong in hand and eye coordination. I am not strong in that so my productive is low but if you ask me draw something and fix a computer I can do that pretty fast. I most jobs where involves speed and to produce garments or even pizza boxes are not playing to strengths with some people with disabilities. It what is lacking is literacy and training for public and disability. Sub minimum wage jobs about jobs where it can play against the assets of people with disability. Job coaches are more interest in getting clients a job not assessing the strengths of the clients.

  15. Cari Watrous says:

    I don’t see it the same way as most folks here do. For me, the effort behind one hour of work for one person with a disability is totally not equal to the effort of an able bodied person and conversely the production for one person with a disability MAY not equal the production of an able bodied person. Which has more value, effort or production? In my world, effort has far more value. I believe that almost everyone with a disability can work, provided the right supports and services. If the government paid for the appropriate supports and services instead of paying people to stay unemployed, shifting the funding stream train people to provide the supports and services, there’s no strain on employer, similar strain on the government until you consider the taxable wages paid by both the person using supports to be employed and the salary of those providing the supports and services as employment.

  16. Jon K. Evans says:

    President Obama: It has come to my attention that you want to exclude persons with disabilities from your directive that ALL Federal Contractors must pay such workers at least $10.10. per hour!
    DON’T DO IT!
    If you do it, you will be a HYPOCRITE
    You and/or your parents were a VICTIM OF Jim Crow! If you approve this exception, you would be allowing it!

  17. Ann Scheele says:

    My son is a 38 year old Down Syndrome man who has worked at Stop & Shop for 16 years and is a very good employee. He is also a union member. As of April he will loose his health insurance through Stop & Shop because he is no longer deemed part time. He works 20 hours a week and has to now work 30 hours a week to be considered part time. HE COULD NOT HANDLE 30 HOURS A WEEK. He has lived in his own house alone for 16 years, and with the help of Section 8 and his work he can pay all of his bills.He also votes in every election and knows who he is voting for. Please look into this latest wrinkle to hurt the handicapped. They have come so far to be pushed back now. He also has to pay for a cab to take him to work.

  18. Susan Williams says:

    My daughter, age 22, has severe intellectual disabilities (IQ of 35). In her case, if she has someplace to go and work and makes fifty cents an hour, I count it as a blessing. Not everyone has the ability that would justify an employer paying them minimum wage. In fact, I would pay an employer double the hourly wage, if necessary, to allow her to perform a menial job at a workplace. She likes to be with other people in the community and to feel like she has a meaningful place in society. Please allow there to be legislation such that my daughter can “work” without requiring her employer to pay minimum wage.

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