The Obama administration may be rethinking its decision to exclude many workers with disabilities from a plan requiring federal contractors to be paid at least $10.10 per hour.
President Barack Obama said last week in his State of the Union address that he would issue an executive order mandating an increased minimum wage for companies doing business with the government.
However, U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez told disability advocates that federal contractors would still be allowed to employ individuals with disabilities at less than the federal minimum.
Now the administration appears to be reconsidering.
In an interview on “The Diane Rehm Show” this week, Perez said that the issue is one the administration is “examining right now as we prepare to finalize the executive order.”
“We’re actively looking at what our legal authorities are and what our abilities are,” Perez said.
The comments represent a change in tone from the administration, with White House officials initially saying that congressional action would be needed in order to make any change to the law that allows those with disabilities to earn less than minimum wage.
The apparent shift comes after an outcry from several disability advocacy organizations.
“All employees of federal contractors should mean all employees, regardless of disability status,” reads a letter to the administration from the Collaboration to Promote Self Determination that was signed by 25 groups including the Autism Society, the National Down Syndrome Congress and the National Disability Rights Network.
Similar correspondence also came from the National Council on Disability and the National Federation of the Blind.
Under a provision that’s been in place since the 1930s, employers can obtain special permission from the Labor Department to pay individuals with disabilities less than the federal minimum. Thousands of workers with disabilities are believed to be employed by government contractors earning so-called subminimum wage.
The practice has come under fire from many advocacy groups in recent years as being outdated, though others in the community insist that it remains necessary in order to ensure that work opportunities exist for those with even the most severe disabilities.
For his part, Perez told Rehm that he believes the subminimum wage provision “really has worked to the detriment of people with disabilities.”