Independent Federal Agency Expects Thousands of Workers with Disabilities Under Federal Contracts To Benefit
Washington, DC — February 12, 2014 — The National Council on Disability (NCD) – an independent federal agency of 15 Presidentially-appointed Council Members who advise the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policy – hailed the Obama administration for the inclusion of workers with disabilities in an executive order that the President promised during the State of the Union address to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal service and concession contractors to $10.10/hour.
A letter issued by NCD on January 30 following the SOTU address by the President sparked an avalanche of advocacy by the disability community – after initial indications from administration officials implied that workers with disabilities now being paid less than minimum wage under Section 14(c) – a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, would not be included.
After a two-week campaign by dozens of disability advocacy groups following NCD’s letter, it was announced that the executive order set to be signed this afternoon will now include federal contract workers with disabilities currently working under Section 14(c). The independent federal agency hopes this signals the first step toward the eventual elimination of the Section 14(c) provision which the agency views as “a relic” of the 1930’s when it was assumed that people with disabilities could not work.
With regard to workers with disabilities working under federal contracts, the Executive Order states:
“Under current law, workers whose productivity is affected because of their disabilities may be paid less than the wage paid to others doing the same job under certain specialized certificate programs. Under this Executive Order, all individuals working under service or concessions contracts with the federal government will be covered by the same $10.10 per hour minimum wage protections.”
“No matter who you are or where you’re from, the opportunities for workers with disabilities to find competitive employment, in the community, alongside non-disabled peers is perhaps better than it has ever been,” said NCD Chairperson Jeff Rosen. “NCD looks forward to working with Congress to keep progress rolling forward until the day we end segregated employment under Section 14(c) where workers with disabilities are still unjustifiably paid below minimum wage more than 80 years after the law was passed. Attitudes have changed since the 1930s and so have expectations for workers with disabilities. The inclusion of thousands of workers with disabilities in the President's Executive Order reflects those necessary changes but we’re not done yet.”
Under Section 14(c), an increasingly controversial 80-year-old provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers obtain minimum-wage certificates from the Department of Labor. These certificates allow employers to pay workers based on output. For example, if an employee produces 50% of what it is estimated a non-disabled person should produce, he or she receives 50% of those wages.
About 95% of roughly 420,000 workers employed under 14(c), worked in segregated work environments commonly called “sheltered workshops” performing basic manual work that is regularly paid by the piece. Thousands of workers with disabilities are currently employed by government contractors in service, concession and production areas.
Council Member Chester Finn, who previously spent six years working in sheltered workshop in western New York, said including workers with disabilities in the executive order is simply a matter of fairness that benefits all Americans – including those with disabilities whose contributions have been undervalued for far too long. “People are more productive when their contributions are appreciated,” said Finn. “Everything from boosting morale to improving work incentives leads to higher productivity which, in turn, improves the overall quality and efficiency of services provided to the government. In the end, everybody wins. Including workers with disabilities in the Executive Order suggests that the President, Administration and Department of Labor recognize this too. That’s progress.”
About the National Council on Disability (NCD): NCD is an independent federal agency of 15 Presidentially-appointed Council Members and full-time professional staff, who advise the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policy, programs, and practices.