Blind organization protests subminimum wage proposal

Members of the National Federation of the Blind protested July 26 at offices nationwide of the representatives of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is set to hold a hearing next week on a controversial subminimum wage proposal.

The protests, which coincide with the 21st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, follow a decision by the organization to reject the proposal at its national convention July 7.

The federal government legalized the paying of subminimum wages to people with disabilities in 1938, as a way to prevent the loss of employment opportunities. A new proposal, which is part of the reauthorization of a 1998 federal job training bill titled the Workforce Investment Act, would provide new safeguards to ensure people with disabilities working in these conditions transfer into competitive employment.

While multiple disability rights organizations, including the National Disability Rights Network view the bill as a step in the right direction, the NFB argues the bill does not go far enough. As the NFB sees it, the existence of subminimum wages, regardless of other safeguards, will ensure prolonged discrimination against workers with disabilities.

“On the eve of the twenty-first anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is more than appropriate that we call for the language that would reauthorize the practice of paying subminimum wages to Americans with disabilities to be stricken from the Workforce Investment Act,” said former New York Governor David A. Paterson, a member of the NFB, in a news release. “We have progressed so far as a nation since 1938, when the original Fair Labor Standards Act denied people with disabilities the workforce protection of a federal minimum wage. Today, we recognize our neighbors’ different religions, different ethnicities, and different backgrounds and embrace the fact that these differences don’t justify discrimination.”

The protests have reached a wide variety of states, including Kentucky, Iowa, Arizona.

DisAbility Rights Washington, the sponsor of DisAbility Rights Galaxy, is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.