Thursday, July 16, 2009

Subminimum Wage?

This week has been filled with a lot of hard work and difficult situations.

Healthcare reform, of course, is never easy. Between the CLASS Act and CCA alone, work has been a challenge, keeping me enormously busy. I am extremely invested in how the new Administration’s healthcare reform will affect people with disabilities. Reading over different acts, amendments and trying to find compromise is beyond crazy, but I love it. However, as exciting and crazy as it may be, it can be overwhelming, which is why I decided to take on a new issue as a side project.

The newest issue that I have found myself involved in is the issue of people with disabilities being paid subminimum wage.

More than 5,600 employers in the United States pay “special minimum wages” to employees with disabilities. Most of the places that pay “special minimum wages” to the workers with disabilities are places called “Work Centers.” These centers provide employment opportunities and support services to PWD. A lot of these centers are run by organizations such as Arc’s or the Easter Seals.

In order to pay “special minimum wages” or subminimum wages, employers have to file paperwork with the Department of Labor. After being approved, employers “evaluate” the skills of their disabled workers and compare their productivity to that of a worker without a disability. If the disabled worker works at 10% of the productivity of a worker without a disability, they will get paid 10% of what the worker without a disability would earn.

The disabled workers are supposed to be evaluated periodically to see if their productivity has increased, however, many employers do not reevaluate their employees and continue to pay them at the same rate, even if they vastly improve.

Many advocates believe that subminimum wage should be eliminated. Organizations such as the Arc and Easter Seals argue against eliminating subminimum wage because they claim that they cannot afford to pay all of their employees the real minimum wage. If subminimum wage was abolished, the organizations have threatened that they will have to fire many of their employees.

What’s the big deal? These disabled workers are working for pennies, so they won’t be losing much, right? Wrong. Many of these workers are people who have nowhere to go during the day. The majority are people with developmental disabilities whose families cannot afford to stay home with them, so they send them to these work centers to keep them safe and busy for the day.

If disabled workers were fired, where would they go?

Is it okay to pay disabled workers subminimum wages for working all day?

These questions, and many more, have been boggling my mind lately, and I’m struggling to find a solution!

-Stephanie Woodward

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