Disability rights activists protested outside the Michigan state capital September 17, calling out the state for its continued support of nonprofits that pay workers with disabilities subminimum wages.
“While we want to celebrate what the (Americans with Disabilities Act) has accomplished for people, there’s still a lot that needs to be done and our organization was involved in helping to coordinate this event,” Melinda Haus of Michigan Disability Rights Coalition told WILX 10, referring to state’s planned celebration of the ADA’s 25th anniversary.
One of the event’s sponsors, Peckham Inc., is the recipient of a certificate from the Department of Labor that allows it pay certain workers with disabilities salaries less than the minimum wages, pursuant to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The provision, enacted in 1938, was meant to provide opportunities for workers deemed unlikely to find regular employment, but has since been criticized as discriminatory and perpetuating stereotypes of people with disabilities.
“Subminimum wages are a form of legal discrimination against people with disabilities. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities [work] in warehouses or workshops for literally pennies an hour,” Samantha Crane, director of public policy at the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, told the Daily Beast. “Research shows that most of these people could be earning above minimum wages if they had proper support.”
Peckham Inc. pays 84 of its roughly 1,700 employees subminimum wages, ranging from $1.84 to $5.52 per hour, according to the Detroit Free Press,
Using tactics derided as “police state tactics,” a heavily armed patrol of police officers surrounded the protesters. One activist, Joe Harcz, 62, as arrested for “restricting and obstructing a police” and shoving two police officers, though Harcz denies shoving anyone.
In addition to subminimum wages, the activists also took issue with the decision to hold the event at the capital building in Lansing. Specifically, the activists argued the capital’s front steps are inaccessible to wheelchair users and the facility lacks signage in Braille, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, was scheduled to be the event’s keynote speaker, but declined the invitation to participate in the protests.
A video about the protest, from WILX 10, can be seen here.