House Votes To End Subminimum Wage
For the first time, federal lawmakers have approved legislation that would end a practice allowing employers to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 231 to 199 Thursday to pass the Raise the Wage Act, a bill chiefly designed to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.
Tucked inside the legislation, however, is a provision that would phase out subminimum wage for workers with disabilities.
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Employers are currently able to obtain so-called 14(c) certificates from the Department of Labor allowing them to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage under a federal law dating back to the 1930s.
The measure approved this week would require the Labor Department to stop issuing new 14(c) certificates and it would increase the minimum wage for workers employed under existing certificates gradually over the course of six years. At that point, any remaining 14(c) certificates would be invalid and employees with disabilities would need to be paid at least the prevailing federal minimum wage.
The House action marks the first time that either the House or Senate has voted to end subminimum wage, advocates said.
“We’re thrilled by the inclusion of phasing out 14(c) in the bill. Everyone deserves a fair wage for their work,” said Julia Bascom, executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “Disability rights are workers rights, and it’s encouraging to see that recognized in this bill.”
Efforts to outlaw 14(c) certificates have gained steam in recent years. In addition to federal proposals, a handful of cities and states from New Hampshire to Alaska have approved their own restrictions on paying less than minimum wage to people with disabilities.
But, many families have opposed such legislation arguing that subminimum wage employment gives people with more severe disabilities who may not be able to succeed in typical jobs a sense of purpose and an opportunity to contribute.
Prospects for the Raise the Wage Act remain uncertain in the GOP-controlled Senate, with Republicans calling the legislation a job-killing bill.
Nonetheless, advocates who favor doing away with subminimum wage said they hope the vote this week will help propel another bill proposed in Congress that also seeks to phase out 14(c) certificates.
“We hope that the passage of the Raise the Wage Act by the House will give some momentum to the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, which not only would phase out submininum wages but, equally as important, would provide funding to help states and providers increase capacity for competitive integrated employment,” said Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy at the Center for Public Representation.
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