An executive order requiring federal contractors to be paid at least $10.10 per hour will apply to workers with disabilities too, White House officials say.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order Wednesday raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers, including those with disabilities employed under service or concessions contracts with the government.
“If you work full-time, you shouldn’t be living in poverty,” Obama said. “This executive order will cover Americans with disabilities because this principle doesn’t just apply to some of us, it applies to all of us.”
The move represents an about-face for the White House. When the plan to hike pay for government contractors was originally announced during Obama’s State of the Union address last month, it left out many workers with disabilities.
Under a federal law known as Section 14(c) that dates back to the 1930s, employers can obtain special permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to pay those with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.
Obama administration officials initially said that the executive order would not alter the ability of authorized employers with government contracts to pay so-called subminimum wage. But under pressure from disability advocacy groups, the final version of the executive order includes such workers.
“We applaud the administration for hearing the voices of the disability community and including disabled workers in the new minimum wage protections for contractors,” said Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, one of 25 groups that signed a letter from the Collaboration to Promote Self Determination urging the White House to include workers with disabilities.
“We hope to work with them going forward to convince Congress to repeal Section 14(c) for all disabled workers,” Ne’eman said. “Equal rights should apply to everyone — President Obama and (Secretary of Labor Tom Perez) helped us take a significant step forward towards realizing that vision today.”
The increased minimum wage will apply to new federal contracts and replacements for expiring agreements beginning Jan. 1, 2015, the White House said. The move is expected to bring a pay boost to hundreds of thousands of workers staffing concessions at National Parks, serving food to members of the military and in other roles.
It’s not known precisely how many people with disabilities currently earn less than minimum wage as federal contract employees, but such workers are believed to number in the thousands. The White House specifically cited individuals with disabilities working to maintain the grounds on military bases as an example of those who will receive a raise.
While some in the disability community say that subminimum wage remains necessary to ensure that employment is available for those with even the most severe disabilities, the practice has been targeted for elimination in recent years by numerous advocacy groups who argue that it is outdated.
(Updated: February 12, 2014 at 3:24 PM CT)