Some Disabled Workers Won’t Be Eligible for American Minimum Wage Hike

minimum wageSorry for another political post, but I’m a little annoyed right now. At President Barack Obama and his promise to raise the minimum wage in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong. I support any sort of initiative that will raise the minimum wage in the US. I’ve been following this issue ever since I learned that the current minimum wage in the US is only $7.25. It’s been over $10.00 in Ontario for years, going up to $11 in June. Heck, student minimum wage in Ontario in 1998 (the last time I worked as a student in Ontario) was $8.

What I don’t support is nonsense about the minimum wage raise not applying to disabled workers that currently earn less than minimum wage – the employees of organizations holding a 14(c) certificate. And apparently, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. The words came right from Joe Biden himself, in a phone call to disability advocates last Wednesday. Read more here

It’s such blatant ableism that it makes me feel ill.

Minimum Wage, Disabled Americans, and the 14(c) Exemption

This ableist action is built on policy that was already ableist. The 14(c) exemption, put in place in the 1930s. It says that “workers with disabilities are excluded from minimum-wage protections if they are employed in certified training programs.” Read more here These are also referred to as sheltered workshop programs, and in the past I’ve gone into why the disability community is deeply divided about them (well, I know where I stand on them, but the community itself is divided).

Goodwill Industries has a 14(c) exemption. It was outed last year for paying disabled workers as low as $0.22 cents an hour, and for engineering their evaluation process so that it was almost impossible for people to get out of jobs that they didn’t want. keeping Regular readers will remember how disgusted that whole business made me.  The story was highly publicized, and people protested Goodwill and did organized boycotts all over the country. No one from the White House has addressed the 14(c) exemption as something that’s keeping Goodwill employees, and employees of other organizations that have the 14(c) exemption, as something that’s contributing to keeping disabled people in this country living in poverty.

Read more about my thoughts on Goodwill here, here, and here.

Recent comments to Ari Ne’eman, head of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), may explain the administration’s failure to even publicly mention the situation. Ne’eman was recently told by the the White House that the Obama administration doesn’t believe it has the authority to raise the wages of people who work for organizations with a 14(c) exemption. Read More Here

Doesn’t have the authority? It’s my understanding that Obama is going to use Executive Agency to raise minimum wage to $10.10 for everyone else…and yet he doesn’t have the power to step in on a labour issue that’s keeping disabled people trapped in poverty and under the heel of organizations like Goodwill, who can afford to pay all their workers minimum wage but don’t? That doesn’t make one iota of sense to me.  ASAN had a legal analysis done that agrees Read More Here

Not only can I not can’t see how Obama doesn’t have the power to make organizations with the 14(c) exemption raise wages, but because I can’t see, granted the havoc that raising the minimum wage using Executive Agency is going to cause for him in general, politically, how it’s going to make things much worse. The only downside that I can see it for him is that it requires him to come down on a side on this particular disability issue. And by doing that, he risks alienating people and losing votes for the Democrats in the next election.

But I’d suggest that he’s alienated much of the disability community at this point anyway, unless he takes some drastic actions in support of it.

Obama, Meet Me at Camera Three

Obama, you’ve got little to lose and the 420,000 disabled Americans employed in organizations with the 14(c) exemption have got everything to gain. 420,00 may sound like it’s too small a number to matter, but “minimum wage” is called that for a reason because it’s what *all* workers get paid, as a bare minimum.

Not just the non-disabled ones.

Throw the disability community something after nearly two terms in office and get on the ball with this one. Disabled Americans have been waiting long enough for you to do something for them.

UPDATE: On February 13th, the news broke that the Obama administration reversed this decision and declared that workers eligible for the minimum wage increase, disabled or not, would receive it. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/02/12/obama-disabled-workers-subminimum-wage/5409927/ Thanks, Obama, for doing the right thing.

About Sarah

Due to a stroke, I've walked with a cane since I was 22 (I'm 36 now)...but I'm so much more than just the girl with the cane.

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  • Phil Dzialo

    I have also follow the 14(c) debacle in my country for awhile and it is frankly inhumane to pay workers whom may be disabled a wage that could provide a living for an ant. There are no good reasons, nor rationalizations for such a dehumanizing and devaluation of the work of the disabled. Simple repeal of 14(c) exemptions would provide justice, but I am sure that all those do-gooder organizations like Goodwill, etc would up in arms. Perhaps a national boycott is in order? Count me in…

  • Phil Dzialo
    • http://girlwiththecane.com Sarah

      I commented on this, but it disappeared…someone please let me know if they can see this, lol….

    • http://girlwiththecane.com Sarah

      Okay, now that my comments seem to be back…the last two replies that I wrote to you didn’t show up, Phil!

      Thank goodness that the Obama administration saw the light on this. The article kind of glosses over the fact that disabled people and the advocacy groups were told originally that they wouldn’t be eligible, which kind of skews the picture a bit (in my opinion), but that’s media for ya…the important thing is that voices were heard and that there’s now a commitment to which the White House can be held accountable. The cynic in me wonders if the motivation behind them changing their minds was as noble as they’d like people to believe, but that may be more a sign that it’s time for me to take a break from following political news for a while than anything else…

      Thanks for making me aware of this, Phil!

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