Regarding Subminimum Wages and the Workforce Investment Act

A2013-01: Regarding Subminimum Wages and the Workforce Investment Act

Adopted In : 2013

Topics : legislation

WHEREAS, in July of 2013, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP Committee) introduced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), a reauthorization vehicle for the Rehabilitation Act; and

WHEREAS, a provision of WIA amends Title V of the Rehabilitation Act to include a newly-added Section 511, which outlines conditions which rehabilitation agencies must follow in order to place workers with disabilities in subminimum-wage employment; and

WHEREAS, the antiquated, discriminatory and abusive practice of paying disabled workers subminimum wages is authorized in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and has never previously been authorized by, linked to, or statutorily noted anywhere in the Rehabilitation Act; and

WHEREAS, while Section 14(c) of the FLSA has been excluding people with disabilities from the same workforce protections as all other Americans for the last 75 years, rehabilitation agencies authorized under the Rehabilitation Act have not been allowed to count placement in sheltered employment or subminimum-wage jobs as a successful employment outcome since 1994; and

WHEREAS, the purpose of the Rehabilitation Act is to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, strengthen and fund a system for states to increase the employment of people with disabilities, and prepare Americans with disabilities for competitive employment in the mainstream workforce; and

WHEREAS, no matter how limited or well intentioned, adding Section 511 to the Rehabilitation Act links the immoral practice of subminimum wage employment with the very law that is intended to reverse discrimination for people with disabilities, reinforcing the antiquated practice and providing legal flexibility and justification for rehabilitation agencies to place clients in subminimum-wage jobs; and

WHEREAS, in August of 2013 Samuel Bagenstos, Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Justice, released a legal analysis on the proposed Section 511 of the Rehabilitation Act included in WIA and concluded that the provision “entrenches sheltered workshops and the subminimum wage—and for the first time recognizes them as acceptable under the rights and provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, our Nation's first disability rights law,” calling it a “stunning step backward;” and

WHEREAS, even though Senator Harkin has claimed his intention for including Section 511 in WIA is to provide limitations for placement in subminimum-wage jobs, reducing the number of young people placed in sheltered employment, the link created in Section 511 will, in reality, encourage rehabilitation agencies to see this option as a viable training and job-placement-service for people with disabilities as well as legally authorize subminimum wages in another statute; and

WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind strongly advocates the repeal of Section 14(c) and the elimination of any subminimum wage employment for people with disabilities, believing all disabled Americans have the capacity for mainstream, competitive work and are entitled to the same workforce protections as every other American citizen; and

WHEREAS, 17 additional organizations of and for people with disabilities oppose the provision of WIA that adds Section 511 to Title V of the Rehabilitation Act: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota in Convention assembled this Twenty-Seventh day of October 2013, in the city of Bloomington, Minnesota, that this organization urge Senator Harkin to fix WIA by removing the provision that adds Section 511 to Title V of the Rehabilitation Act, and keep any mention of subminimum wages out of the very disability rights law meant to remove discrimination in employment for Americans with disabilities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon Senators Klobuchar and Franken to vote against WIA if it is brought to a vote with Section 511 still written into the bill.

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