Does empowering the blue collar worker by raising minimum wage stimulate the economy or put small business out of business? Does providing more tax credits lead to job creation or simply stuff the coffers and never trickle down to Main Street? As so happens every few years, there is currently a lot of attention on the topic of the benefits and foils of raising minimum wage, on both sides of the aisle.
And finally, there is another uncommonly known bit about minimum wage, based on a law passed in 1938 - Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), that discriminates against people with disabilities. Unless you are an individual with a significant disability who finally accepts this type of employment because you have become exhausted hitting roadblocks to 'competitive' employment (due to lack of appropriate supports), or a company (for or non-profit) taking advantage of this provision (huge benefit for you, isn't it?), you are likely completely unaware it exists.
It's a little known fact that there are more than 200,000 employees legally working across the USA at for and non-profit companies for compensation below (and very often far below) minimum wage. That's right, anything from a penny an hour up - I am not talking about the horrors of illegal immigrants toiling in sweatshops or students working under the table, this is perfectly legal.
Sub-minimum Wage is a Dirty Little Corporate Loophole
Exceptional reporting was published today online at stargazette.com out of New York state - Watchdog Report: Workers with disabilities earn pennies per houron the gluttony and disgrace of sheltered workshops and sub-minimum wages. Read the article and learn about six-figure salaries for C-level leaders rolling in dough on the backs of individuals with disabilities. We often hear about and protest companies that outsource cheap labor for manufacturing and production in Asia -but there are people earning less right here at home in the land of equal opportunity. You likely use products made, assembled or packaged by people earning as little as a penny an hour. How do you feel about that?
"This is the biggest labor scam in this country right now that nobody's doing anything about,' former Gov. David Paterson, who is legally blind, said in an interview. 'It reminds me of the attitude about slavery, where if you try to stick up for the workers they try to tell you 'Oh they're doing what's best for them.'" - stargazette.com
While many individuals with disabilities may have not found employment outside of segregated sheltered workshops or families of individuals with disabilities may feel there are no suitable alternatives for their adult children, earning dehumanizing wages isn't the answer - and though it remains there are not always an abundance of opportunities in every community, they do exist and are becoming more commonplace.
Everyone can work and there is a job for everyone. Our job is to be creative and tenacious in providing support.
Not working should be the exception. All individuals, schools, families and businesses must raise their expectations.
People will be hired because of their ability not because they have a disability.
Communities embrace people who contribute.
Everyone has something to contribute and needs to contribute.
People are healthier, safer and happiest with meaningful work.
True employment is not a social service.
Employment is a win/win for everybody.
If you have read this post you can no longer say you 'didn't know'. Now, what can you do about it?
Here are some steps you can start to research and think about so you are more prepared to act on your journey to a more inclusive workforce:
- As an HR professional or leader in your organization, you can seek to improve your company and empower your workforce by making a commitment to more inclusive organizational diversity.
- If you already have a commitment to diversity rehash it and dig deeper into more inclusive equal opportunity for ALL - even if it poses logistical or creative challenges.
- Learn from leaders, gain ideas, inspiration and best practices in disability inclusion in the workplace with this piece from the US Chamber: Leading Practices on disability Inclusion. It includes a great Workplace Disability Inclusion Assessment Tool.
- Connect with Federal, State / Local office of disability employment services and find out who you can talk with about recruiting candidates who may need supported employment, job carving, job sharing, job training, and accommodations. There may be tax incentives and training assistance available to your company.
- Learn how a diverse workforce is a happier and stronger workforce. Read Forbes Insights - Global Diversity and Inclusion: Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce.
- Check out resources from the US Business Leadership Networkand find your state's chapter.
- Support and trackThe Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013 (H.R. 831), introduced by Congressman Gregg Harper (R-Miss). The bill, when passed, will responsibly phase out and eventually repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Like every other initiative, it takes vision and planning - but it isn't difficult to do the right thing. The rewards your company and workforce will reap will be worth the effort.
How does your organization practice proactive diverse and inclusive employment practices for people with disabilities? Or doesn't it?