14 C Increases Options for People with Disabilities

Over the past several years there has been a growing misinterpretation of Sheltered Workshops in the United States.

How does society perceive this option?

Here are some of the headlines that have sparked the conversation:

“Lawmakers work to end subminimum wages for people with disabilities.”

“Many People With Disabilities Are Being Paid Way Below the Minimum Wage, and It’s Perfectly Legal.”

“New Bill would phase out subminimum wage model for people with disabilities.”

In this weeks blog post we would like to educate our readers on what 14C is and why this is an important option for our population.

Inroads to Opportunities is a Vocational Rehabilitation Center located in Roselle, New Jersey. We work with individuals with disabilities to help prepare them for a life of wellness, independence and employment. Inroads provides transition from classroom to career for high school students with disabilities, employment readiness training, evaluations, mental health partial care to individuals recovering from chronic illness, resume boosting certification programs (Servsafe, Janitorial, Osha Forklift), Employment services for 120+ people working in the community and Extended Employment (Assembly Services Division). Our agency also owns Railside Cafe in Fanwood, NJ; an integrated employment option for people with disabilities who are qualified to work in the fast paced restaurant business.

Since 1959 we started our journey with 4 program participants. The Occupational Center of Union County was started with the mission to provide vocational training to people with disabilities who needed a place to go, which wasn’t limited to the four walls in their homes.

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What is 14 C and why are lawmakers fighting to remove this option?

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 created a provision known as 14C. F.L.S.A. permitted employers to pay less than minimum wage to workers with disabilities in order to help them gain entry into the workforce. Employees with disabilities in sheltered workshops are paid a commensurate wage based upon a time study. Wages are based on productivity.

Lawmakers have been increasingly vocal about phasing out 14C and the sheltered workshops, deeming them an unethical option for people with disabilities.

“I don’t think most Americans know that this kind of discriminatory treatment is perfectly legal, but I’ll bet that if they did, they’d agree that individuals with disabilities ought to be paid fairly for their work.” Senator Elizabeth Warren.

In an article posted in 2018, David Ordan stated, “As such, it is a myth to say that paying subminimum wages to workers with disabilities leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and keeps them out of the general employment market, as claimed by Senator Warren D-Mass.) at a Senate Health Committee Hearing in Oct. 2017. She continues to argue this point to this day.

 Furthermore, it is not true that employers across the country are using this (commensurate wage) waiver to acquire cheap labor instead of paying minimum wage for the same work and performance as able-bodied workers.

The truth is that the vast majority of “employers” making use of this waiver are in fact, sheltered workshops, rather than private employers. Based on April, 2015 data from Wages and Hours Division of the Department of Labor, 2,820 entities in the United States hold Section 14(c) subminimum wage certificates. 89 percent are sheltered workshops. “

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What are the consequences of phasing out 14 C?

There is a one-size-fits-all perspective that by removing the sheltered workshop model it will increase competitive employment options for people with disabilities. Unfortunately this could not be any further from the truth.

There are thousands of individuals with disabilities who work in sheltered employment across the United States. Many of them would be forced to return home and await an alternative employment service or day program. The unintended consequences are countless because not only does this diminish employment options, it affects the participants self esteem and confidence that is so fragile in the lives of our most vulnerable population.

“To cite one example, Maine ordered a phase-out of disabled workshops starting in 2008. Two-thirds of those onetime employees were unable to find other paid positions, according to a June 2015 study by George Washington University, and enrollment in daycare and other programs soared to 3,178, from 550. “ - Ordan, The Hill, 2018.

A Measure of Success: Every Job has Dignity!

Phasing out 14C is resulting in thousands of people moving into day programs that are not employment focused. While there are many social benefits to Day Habilitation, it in a sense removes an employment setting and replaces it with a program that creates no source of income for its participants.

Sheltered Workshops were never designed to be a dead end employment option, however for a percentage of our population this is a job that they can handle in a safe environment.

It is a measure of success to come home with a paycheck, make friends at our agency, build self-esteem, develop relationships and learn about the world of work. This is unfortunately the bigger picture that is not being represented.

At Inroads we give our program participants the confidence that they can pursue competitive community employment. Each person is different and faces a separate set of challenges. Sometimes physical, sometimes mental and often both.

Lawmakers are pushing for “Raise the Wage,” which will force employers to move to a $15 minimum wage by 2024. This is yet another barrier to employment for people with disabilities.

Automation in the workplace is also replacing the workforce with robotic technology. Companies are investing in these technologies to increase profitability and reduce labor costs.

How will this affect our population?

We would like you to weigh in on your thoughts on our Blog post this week. Please comment and share this post.

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Written by Bryan Hansen

#wearethecommunity #myjobmychoice #lookatthebiggerpicture