The National Disability Rights Network last month launched a new initiative, encouraging its members to file complaints with the Department of Labor, or applicable state agencies, to enforce federal labor laws in so-called “sheltered workshops.”
The initiative, titled the Wage and Hour Complaint Initiative, targets Section 14(c) of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Under this provision, certain employers apply to the DOL for Special Minimum Wage Certificates, which allows them, under certain conditions, to pay certain employees with disabilities less than the minimum wage.
“We have good reason to believe that in many cases things are not being done correctly in those environments,” said Amy Scherer, a staff attorney with the NDRN, told Disability Scoop on August 15.
Although these certificates were meant to create temporary job opportunities for individuals who otherwise may not be employed, disability advocates have long argued that the provision has been exploited.
“We cannot sit on the sidelines when employers have created jobs that pay as little as 10% of the minimum wage to people with disabilities with most workers earning only 50% of the competitive wage rates,” NDRN’s Executive Director Curt Decker said in a news release. “Why are people with disabilities so frequently segregated in congregate facilities working at a rate that is less than the minimum wage – a wage set by Congress for all other workers in the United States?”
The NDRN is the umbrella group for the nation’s federally-mandated protection and advocacy agencies, which exist in every state.
The NDRN released an extensive report in 2011, titled “Segregated and Exploited: The Failure of the Disability Service System to Provide Quality Work,” documenting conditions in sheltered workshops nationwide. It released an updated version in 2012.
“The Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Network has the means to join forces to collectively advocate to end segregated employment and sub-minimum wages,” Decker said in the news release. “The Fair Labor Standards Act and many state labor laws provide methods to challenge the payment of sub-minimum wages, and the P&A network [will] use these tools to halt the inappropriate or illegal use of sub-minimum wages.”
Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of DisAbility Rights Galaxy, is the protection and advocacy system for Washington State, and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.