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.
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.