subminimumwages@usccr.gov – We support Section 14(c) accommodations

Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is an ACCOMMODATION  – an accommodation for those with the most significant intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Section 14(c) is an accommodation that can be used by the employees choice in order to gain skills and maintain employment.

The purpose of Section 14(c) is to prevent curtailment of employment opportunities for those who may be unable to work in other settings.  Employment under Section 14(c) is not the first choice offered to people but it needs to be one of the alternative routes to training and employment for those who may need more time or hands-on support to learn a skill.

We all have a right to work  – many of us may need some sort of accommodation, if even temporary, at some time in our life, in order to maintain employment.  Why should those with significant disabilities not have that right too with Section 14(c) accommodation?

One of the major problems that has been agreed upon is that there has not been enough information for people to know what is even going on – who is working, where they are working, what they are doing or what they are earning.  Without this information, including that for those working in integrated employment settings,  how can we evaluate what has already occurred?  We need time to assess what has happened in areas that have eliminated choices and discover if those affected are satisfied with the changes.

Have these people been able to have equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency as they may have been promised by those who took their choices away?

The Wage and Hour Division  (WHD) of the Department of Labor (DOL) has recently taken steps to modernize its oversight and enforcement of the 14(c) program.  The process is now electronic and there is great opportunity to collect, aggregate, and analyze information which was not possible when paper applications were being used. WHD has already produced improvements with recent investigations and back wages being repaid to the employees.

We say “take a step back” and take time to gather information and evaluate.   We need to allow the improved oversight with investigational teams time to weed out the abusers of a system before we eliminate another accommodation and impose more restrictions for this population.

 

email subminimumwages@usccr.gov, with “I Support 14c” in the subject line. The e-mail may also be copied to federal legislators at www.usa.gov/elected-officials,

United States Commission on Civil Rights

USCCR Briefing Agenda – December 15, 2019

 

What is all this about sub-minimum wage?

Is it a “loop hole” or an accommodation?  It depends on how you use it and who you use it for and if you are following the regulations as intended.

Don’t fall for the argument that this is a loop hole – or at least if you do, stop exploitation of those who abuse the system rather than using it to promote employment and community engagement.

White Picket Fence

Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was not intended to be a “loop-hole” to exploit anyone.  It was also not written to apply to whole populations of people with any type of disability.  The fact that a worker may have a disability is not in and of itself sufficient to warrant the payment of a subminimum wage.

The Special Minimum Wage Provision Section 14c of the FLSA is a vital tool that allows individuals with significant disabilities to work in an environment where they are compensated commensurate with their productivity, have friendships, support and purposeful activity – this can be in any work setting that they choose.  Often, it is in community settings which also enables the employee to build natural supports.

Everyone has a right to work. Support this right for our most vulnerable citizens!

Take a look at this fence – yes, there is a problem – what is the best way to fix it?  Tear the whole fence down or fix that one board?  My vote would be to fix the board and keep the fence.  The same with Section 14 (c) – fix the problem but keep the regulation.

As with many laws and regulations set up to protect people and provide choices and alternatives, there are always those who will exploit and abuse.  This does not mean that the system was bad or caused the exploitation but that those who abuse and exploited were doing evil actions.  Those are the ones that should be held accountable for their wrong-doing – not those who are in need of choice, alternatives and protections.

We should not punish our vulnerable citizens because there are others who will exploit them.  Without certain protections in place our vulnerable citizens will be at risk of much more danger.  What we need to do is call out the evil-doers and hold them accountable for their actions.

Department of Labor fact sheet.

 

 

“Abled” Disabled make decisions

Here is a perfect example of how people who identify as disabled act as ableist as they claim “ableds” act with regards to making decisions about their lives.

“Bickley said it’s frustrating that people without disabilities want to make decisions for others, without knowing or understanding their experiences.”

King County bans employers from paying below minimum wage to people with disabilities

To those people who are quoted in the article and the organizations they work for, it would be helpful to have discussions regarding concerns of people who are ACTUALLY affected by these changes rather than blocking them.  Stand up and listen!

“Everyone deserves equal opportunity to provide for themselves so they can be financially independent and live an independent life,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who sponsored the legislation.

Excuse me, Councilmember Upthegrove – did you happen to read the JLARC report that came out last year regarding this issue.  This ordinance has nothing to do with improving wages or helping people be financially independent and live an independent life.  That’s called “Magical Thinking” – I don’t think this ordinance is going to be magical.

In case you did not read the report, here is one quote from it

5,110 clients (73%) were employed. They worked an average of 47 hours per month and earned an average wage of $583 per month. Unemployed clients may be in the job development phase.

Clients with high support needs work fewer hours and are more likely to be unemployed

JLARC staff analysis of data for the clients in individual supported employment during fiscal year 2018 found that:

  • 44% of clients with high support needs were unemployed. This is double the rate for clients with medium support needs and five times the rate for clients with low support needs.
  • Clients with high support needs who were employed worked 21 hours per month on average. This is less than half the average hours for clients with medium support needs, and a quarter of the hours for the clients with low support needs.
  • 99% of clients with high support needs earned less than the federal poverty level.

What’s all this about sub-minimum wage?

In recent years there has been a push to end sub-minimum wage jobs.  I totally agree that people should be paid a fair wage regardless if one has a disability or not.  If the person is able to do the job – with our without supports – that person should be paid at least minimum wage.  No argument from me at all on this point.

But, there is also another side of the story that is not heard (or ignored) with regards to employment and those with profound and complex multiple disabilities.  This population is often the population that if employed, is employed at a “sub-minimum”  or commensurate wage based on productivity at the job.

What is also often missed in this issue is that fact that a job is much more than a paycheck and for a specific segment of our population, this job, even though it pays sub-minimum wage, is much more than a job and money to the people who are actually involved.  We cannot lose sight of this fact in the quest “to do the right thing” without understanding the whole situation.  Most of these people do receive public benefits already due to the fact that the majority have some sort of intellectual and developmental disability.  The wages they earn are not what they live on for food and rent – although every little bit helps because what they receive from public benefits is clearly at poverty level.

Recently, Liz Plank, a video blogger and journalist,  recently posted a video titled “Divided States of Minimum Wage”   This is a great story about Collette and how she has started her own cookie business and hires other people with disabilities to work in her shop. This is a great story and one of wonderful accomplishment.

It’s a very complex issue though and it does not help that people such as Sarah Launderville,  the Executive Director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living.  Unfortunately, Ms. Launderville misinterprets the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA – DOL)  law and goes on to say that people get paid based on what percentage of disability the person has and goes on to say “so you’re saying you’re half a person.”

There is a public Facebook group called Disability Visibility Project

Disability Visibiilty Project - Facebook

I posted my concerns regarding this video on the DVP site and was lambasted by others.  My comments were major triggers for many people on that site and I was since blocked from the site.  While I eventually self-identified as being disabled myself (I am and have even lost a job due to asking for an ADA accommodation) I was repeatedly called out as an ableist and other nasty terms.  Even when I asked one person to read what I wrote before swearing at me and making judgments this is the comment I received:
ableist shit comment

Once labeled – there is no opportunity to clarify since every comment is twisted and misinterpreted.   I followed the commenting guidelines more closely than most of those who swore and labeled me – but since I was reported to the moderator, I was blocked from the site (as were a couple of other people who spoke some truth).  If you are interested in reading the comments, here is a link to a PDF (DVP Banned Facebook Comments March 2 2018the of the post or you can go to the Facebook page of Disability Visibility Project and read/comment there.

 

I have made efforts to clarify issues regarding the certificates and advocating for people who chose to work in these types of employment settings.  I have attempted to illustrate various types of obstacles that would be difficult to overcome, even with appropriate supports, for many of these same people to work in an integrated employment setting.    It’s not as simple as just paying someone minimum wage when one needs intensive supports.  There are issues of transportation, funding and training for job coach who needs to be there at all times and issues with personal care assistance (typically job coaches are not able to help with personal care giving) just to start the list.

Another huge issue is the fact that in supported employment for people with intensive support needs, the work hours usually top out at 10 hours a week.  Vermont has an average of 8 hours a week and New Hampshire has an average of 11 hours per week.  So even though the person earns minimum wage the income earned is minimal.

This then creates another major issue – if the person is now only working 8-11 hours a week, what is that person going to do the rest of the day?  While working in a “sheltered workshop” people may receive their physical therapy on site, make and eat their meals, have personal caregivers and peers on site.  There are many opportunities to engage with others and be out in the community.  When work hours are drastically cut, many people have nothing to do but sit home alone.

How do we progress and move forward?  I’ll keep advocating for my son and others and I’m sure I’ll be called more names and blocked from other sites too  – but hopefully, someone will read it and understand and help to advocate for those who are not able to advocate for themselves.