Disability Advocates Call For End To Subminimum Wage Employment
Dozens of disability advocacy groups are urging the Biden administration to end a decades-old program allowing employers to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage.
In a letter this week to top officials at the U.S. Department of Labor, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Autism Society, the National Disability Rights Network and more than 20 other organizations said that the agency should do away with what’s known as the Section 14(c) program.
Since the 1930s, federal law has allowed employers to obtain special certificates from the Labor Department allowing them to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. But the program has largely fallen out of favor in recent times with efforts shifting toward supporting people with disabilities in competitive integrated employment instead.
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“The practice of paying disabled Americans subminimum wages is unfair, unjust and only further discriminates against our community that faces so many challenges already in our daily lives,” said Maria Town, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. “People with disabilities deserve to be paid a fair wage regardless of their work environment. This practice has endured for 90 years. It’s time for it to end.”
In their letter, the advocacy groups argue that Section 14(c) is inconsistent with federal civil rights laws aimed at promoting community inclusion for those with disabilities. The program is demeaning to people with disabilities, ripe for exploitation, diverts resources from other disability employment efforts and fails to open doors to other opportunities, the groups say.
Already, 15 states have barred subminimum wage employment and a Government Accountability Office report earlier this year found that the number of people working in such jobs fell from 296,000 to 122,000 between 2010 and 2019. That number has continued to decline since.
“Eliminating 14(c) simply means that everyone has access to the federal minimum wage and ends the discriminatory practice of singling out people with disabilities as not capable/competent to fully participate in the labor market,” the letter states.
The advocacy groups acknowledge that ending the subminimum wage program would require “time and resources to ensure that people with disabilities have the opportunity to successfully transition to their next step — whether that is to competitive integrated employment or to some other pre-employment or support service.”
However, proponents of the subminimum wage program say that ending it would simply limit opportunities for individuals with more significant disabilities for whom competitive integrated employment may not be desirable or achievable.
Officials with the Labor Department said that Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su is reviewing the advocates’ letter.
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