Today, the US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) released its report, Subminimum Wages: Impacts on the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities regarding Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows people with disabilities to be paid subminimum wages, often pennies on the dollar, in segregated settings where they don’t interact with their nondisabled peers. We commend the Commission for its recommendation to end the use of Section 14(c) and expand access to competitive integrated employment – jobs in the community where people with disabilities work alongside, are paid the same wages, and have the same opportunities as their co-workers without disabilities.
The Commission’s recommendations align with the widespread support within the disability community to end to the subminimum wage and segregated employment and expand competitive integrated employment. The disability community worked tirelessly to ensure the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA), which established employment of people with disabilities as a national priority. We are advocating for passage of the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (TCEA), which would phase out the use of Section 14(c) and expand competitive integrated employment.
CPR has a long history of working to ensure that all people with disabilities have opportunities to work in competitive integrated employment instead of being relegated to segregated, subminimum wage sheltered workshops. CPR brought the first-ever class action in the country challenging the state of Oregon’s overreliance on segregated, subminimum wage sheltered workshops in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Lane v. Brown. Because of that landmark case, the majority of people in sheltered workshops in Oregon have transitioned to competitive integrated employment, and the state has decided to close all of its sheltered workshops. The Oregon legislature has also decided to end subminimum wages.
CPR has played a leading role in advocating for federal legislation and policies to phase out subminimum wages and expand opportunities for competitive integrated employment as well. CPR has worked with members of Congress to develop legislation like the TCEA and Raise the Wage Act, and served as an appointed member of the federal Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities charged with making recommendations to Congress and the Department of Labor on the future of Section 14(c) and strategies for expanding competitive integrated employment. At the invitation of the USCCR, CPR provided testimony on federal disability laws and policies related to disability employment to inform today’s report.
As the Advisory Committee found, the widespread use of 14(c) certificates and investment in sheltered workshops is “antithetical to the intent of modern federal disability law and policy.” It is long past time to end those discriminatory practices that have kept disabled people trapped in poverty and segregated from their nondisabled peers and broader community.
We thank the US Commission on Civil Rights for today’s report and call on Congress and federal agencies to implement its critical recommendations.