Creating More Equal Workplaces

Jeff Long was one of 21 men with intellectual disabilities discovered in 2009 toiling away at an Iowa turkey processing plant and living in deplorable conditions while earning just $65 per month from an employer with an expired subminimum wage certificate. (Melanie Burford/Dallas Morning News/MCT)

The National Disability Rights Network are now advocating for a nationwide effort to crackdown on employers who are paying their disabled workers unfair wages. Currently, employers can engage in a legal process where they get permission from the U.S Department of Labor to pay people with disabilities what is known as a subminimum wage, or less than the minimum wage. These special wage certificates do have strict procedures attached to them, including regularly checking on worker productivity levels among the list of requirements.

These sheltered workshops, as they are called, have recently come under extra scrutiny as there is an increased focus to create sustainable programs for people with ASD as well as other disabilities. Also as the population of working age people either on the spectrum or with other disabilities, is growing each year or creating an imperative need for revamped workforce program.

Amy Scherer, a staff attorney at the National Disability Rights Network, says that individuals can contact the protection and advocacy organization in their state is they are aware of any violations or potential violations. The Department of Labor welcomes these tips and investigations since they have trying to find ways to make sure employers comply with the law.

Last month alone, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that would put significant restrictions on placement into a sheltered workshop or other work environments where people with disabilities are paid below minimum wage. For example, disabled individuals who are 24 and younger are no longer allowed to be paid less than min. wage unless they first explore their other options such as pre-employment transition services or vocational rehabilitation services. In the cases where they are in a placement earning less than min. wage, the new law requires that the state provide career counseling periodically and are informed of other work opportunities. This new law, however, won’t actually be effective until two years after its enactment.

For more information on workforce initiatives being taken by Shema-Kolainu’s affiliate organization, ICare4Autism, click HERE.

For the original article, click HERE.