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ffffThe Issue of Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities

Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) allows entities holding what are called “special wage certificates” to pay their disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage.

These entities are almost always segregated workplaces, sometimes called “sheltered workshops,” that employ workers with various disabilities, including sensory, physical, and cognitive or developmental disabilities. Federal law requires that certain goods and services procured by the federal government be purchased from these sheltered workshops in order to provide workers with disabilities with employment, but these workers do not have the same protections that other American workers have. Most importantly, over 300,000 workers with disabilities do not receive the federal minimum wage.

People with disabilities have the right and ability to work in the same jobs earning the same wages as nondisabled workers.  There are many examples of individuals with significant disabilities who, when provided the proper training and support, have acquired a competitive job skill to earn at least minimum wage.  Very few, if any, disabled or nondisabled individuals acquire a competitive job skill through performing menial tasks in sheltered, segregated, subminimum-wage work environments.  We must set higher expectations and provide real training and support for all people to become fully participating members of society.

Although in recent times some sheltered workshops have begun to pay disabled workers the minimum wage or higher, other shops still claim that they would be unable to continue their operations and would have to fire their workers with disabilities if forced to pay the minimum wage.  This claim is demonstrably false. In addition to the revenue generated from the labor of the worker, these entities are primarily non-profit organizations that receive very lucrative federal contracts.  Even those workshops that are paying workers competitive wages should not have trouble maintaining their operations while remaining quite profitable; indeed, many are already maintaining successful business operations while paying competitive wages.

The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013 (H.R. 831) has been introduced by Congressman Gregg Harper. The bill, if passed, would repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and phase out the discriminatory practice of paying disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage. For more information on this critical legislation, please read the official press release on its introduction.

Frequently Asked Questions

To learn more about the issue and the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, please read our frequently asked questions document.

Frequently Asked Questions (Word)

Goodwill Informational Protests

On Saturday, August 25, 2012, the NFB and its affiliates and chapters conducted over ninety informational protests of Goodwill thrift store locations across the country.

The purpose of the protests was to promote public awareness of the unfair, discriminatory, and immoral practice of paying subminimum wages to workers with disabilities.  Goodwill is a household name, but most households do not realize that Goodwill is one of the many employers that pay less than the federal minimum wage to their workers with disabilities.  In order to effect change in this policy, we are urging people not to shop at thrift stores affiliated with Goodwill Industries, International and/or donate goods to Goodwill until they adopt a policy for each of their affiliates to pay at least the federal minimum wage to all of their workers with disabilities.
Some Goodwill-affiliated agencies pay their workers with disabilities at least the federal minimum wage, but 64 of the 165 Goodwill-affiliated agencies choose to limit the vocational potential of their workers with disabilities by paying them pennies per hour.  The Goodwill affiliates that value their employees with disabilities by paying at least the federal minimum wage are setting an example for the others to follow, and they can provide the technical assistance necessary for the others to adopt a similar business model that pays a competitive wage to every employee.  As a result, Goodwill is in a better position than most to assist in bringing this discriminatory practice to an end.
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