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article imagePresident seeks to abolish subminimum wage for the disabled

By Mike White     Jun 19, 2014 in Politics
United States President Barack Obama is moving forward with a plan that will guarantee that disabled federal workers will no longer receive less than the federal minimum wage.
According to disabilityscoop.com, a proposed rule was published in the Federal Register Tuesday that will raise the minimum wage for all federal contract workers, including the disabled, to $10.10 per hour.
Reportedly the previous policy allowed paying the disabled who were under federal contract less than the minimum wage. The practice was allowed as long as employers received special permission from the Labor Department.
President Obama mandated the pay hike through executive order earlier this year. The initial proposal left disabled workers out of it. The president included the disabled when the final version of his executive order was created, once disability advocacy groups pressured him.
"If you work full-time, you shouldn’t be living in poverty,” Obama explained. “This executive order will cover Americans with disabilities because this principle doesn’t just apply to some of us, it applies to all of us.”
This week the Labor Department has opened the plan up for public comment. Comments will be received until July 17. Regulators are then expected to issue a final rule on the matter by Oct. 1.
"Written in 1938, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) discriminates against people with disabilities,” the National Federation for the Blind explained its position on the issue on its website. "The provision allows the Secretary of Labor to grant to employers Special Wage Certificates that permit them to pay workers with disabilities subminimum wages (wages that are less than the federal minimum wage) primarily in sheltered workshops (segregated work environments)."
The website went on to explain such actions were allowed "based on the false assumption that disabled workers are less productive than nondisabled workers, which has been disproven by the successful employment models that have emerged in the last seventy-five years to assist people with significant disabilities in acquiring the job skills needed for competitive work."
According to WBUR, a local affiliate of National Public Radio, before the new rule, disabled workers had sometimes worked for pennies an hour at sheltered workshops. Some defended the rule by saying they were a godsend. Others said the workshops demonstrated how good intentions can go wrong.
One example given was the Sertoma Centre, located in Chicago. The organization reportedly gives employment opportunities to about 250 people. The work includes such things as packaging bottles for microbreweries as a part of subcontracting jobs.
Pay at such jobs is regulated by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the rules were once intended to encourage companies to hire more veterans who were disabled. Companies, including some federal contractors were allowed to pay subminimum wages, determined by how productive a disabled worker was compared to a non-disabled worker performing the same work.
Workers at Seretoma might earn from 25 cents to $8.25 per hour, the minimum wage for Illinois.
According to WBUR, the concept that allowed for the lower pay had come under increasing fire.
More about President obama, Abolish, subminimum wage, Disabled
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