Special Minimum Wage

So there’s this thing. It’s called “special minimum wage.” It’s part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and it means that employers with a “special wage certificate” get to pay disabled people less than minimum wage. Some people call it a “loophole” but it is not. A loophole implies a method of evading the law. This is explicitly written into law – specifically, section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In this country, disabled people are literally second class citizens, not always even allowed the right to work for a fair pay.

Not only that, but people really defend this. There is an assumption that being disabled, especially having a “severe” disability, means that you somehow cannot work. That you’ll require lots of hand holding and oversight and it means that it would be simply impossible to pay you the way everyone else is paid. The way non-disabled people are paid.

And we find ourselves in a position of needing to prove that we can work the same as everyone else before we’re even allowed to try, and companies have a financial incentive to make sure we can’t. Not always, but often enough. It shouldn’t happen at all, but it does.

And it’s not getting a lot of attention. Goodwill, an ostensibly non-profit organization that nonetheless has executive directors making huge salaries, regularly pays disabled employees less than minimum wage. Sometimes not even $1 per hour. You cannot tell me that Goodwill would not be able to employ disabled people if they paid us fairly – that’s so ludicrous I cannot even imagine how someone could say it with a straight face.

This article talks about another aspect of the issue. Michael Grice has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He used to work in marketing and as a customer service representative – jobs that don’t require significant physical ability. But now he’s working doing menial labor for ridiculously low wage. And it’s true that his disability means he does not do that job very well. So why can’t services find him a better placement, doing a thing he would be good at?

Well, I have no idea.

But instead he’s doing a job he’s poor at for wages that would be illegal for an able-bodied person. Yet people continue to justify “special minimum wage” with noises about how we just can’t employ disabled people the way we can employ able-bodied people. Because basic accommodations or placing people in jobs that cater to our strengths is, apparently, just too hard. This is why it is so important to create a culture where it is only natural and normal to see what a person’s strengths are, and to help us use those strengths. Because right now, not only do we not have that kind of culture, we have a culture where that is simply dismissed as not worth bothering with.

Oh, but there’s more. There are organizations that do this regularly. Sometimes I see people talking about how it’s important to try to buy american-made, if you can. That we shouldn’t support overseas sweatshop labor, even if it is cheaper. Yet right here in the US, we have companies employing large numbers of disabled workers with their special wage certificate, making and selling things like tablecloths or napkins or rugs or whatnot. The companies claim that they simply wouldn’t be able to employ so many workers if they had to actually pay a fair wage. A human wage. You know, a wage that would treat us as human beings equal under the law. People keep going after Goodwill, but Goodwill is far from the only company doing this. We need to attack the law that makes this legal, not a company that is (however skeevily) benefiting from this law.

The National Federation of the Blind has this to say about all that:

Although in recent times some sheltered workshops have begun to pay disabled workers the minimum wage or higher, other shops still claim that they would be unable to continue their operations and would have to fire their workers with disabilities if forced to pay the minimum wage.  This claim is demonstrably false. In addition to the revenue generated from the labor of the worker, these entities are primarily non-profit organizations that receive very lucrative federal contracts.  Even those workshops that are paying workers competitive wages should not have trouble maintaining their operations while remaining quite profitable; indeed, many are already maintaining successful business operations while paying competitive wages.

Equal rights needs to include everyone. And while I see lots of noise about equal rights for LGBT individuals, and how we also need to remember issues of race and voting rights, I’m not seeing much about this.

People who talk about intersectionality sometimes, occasionally, remember to include disability. But mostly we’re quietly ignored, left off to the side, not talked about or mentioned or even really noticed.

This has to stop. The idea that we’re sooo hard to employ needs to stop. Forcing us into jobs we’re bad at while ignoring our strengths needs to stop. This is not ok.

It is, please pardon my language, fucking bullshit.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Special Minimum Wage

  1. Ross

    That is pretty messed up! In the UK we have no such government legislation, for now. However, since our most recent government took power they have been pushing for it. They say it would ‘help get disabled people back into the work place’… What I say to that is, why should I work for less than somebody else when I’m doing the same job? This is a major part of the reason they want to pull us out of the EU so they will no longer be subject to the EU Human Rights Commission which so far have prevented them from making such changes to our laws.

    On the flip side though, even though employers can’t legally discriminate, they still do so. If for instance I go for a job and another person with similar qualifications goes for the job, but they are ‘healthy’, then they would get the job. It’s happened to me on several occasions over the years (even though I only found out about my Aspergers recently, I have other health problems which have been going on for years).

    Legally, you have to tell them about any disabilities or on going medical conditions in your application/interview stage, if you don’t and they find out after giving you the job, they can fire you without notice and possibly even charge you with giving false information. Yet when you list it on the application, 9/10 times you wont even get as far as an interview. Heck when I got an interview for a job which the Job Centre told me to go to or I’d have my benefits cut, the interviewer asked about my health problems and then said “Why are you even here? You’ll never get hired.”…

    Our current government are also doing everything they can to turn the majority against disabled people who are incapable of working. They’ve been calling us “scroungers” and the likes for the last two years, cutting disabled benefits left and right and several people taken off of their benefits who were told they were “fit to work”, died within months of having their benefits withdrawn.

    More really does need to be done to advocate for equality across the board, if all of the groups who fight for the rights of one group or another joined forces and fought for the rights of all Human beings, perhaps we’d get somewhere.

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