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Congressmen introduce Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act

October 26th, 2011  |  Deborah Hammonds

New legislation intended to ensure workers with disabilities earn a fair wage has been proposed by two members of Congress. The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011 (H.R. 3086) was introduced by Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY). The legislation would phase out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which allows employers holding special wage certificates to pay their workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage. 

“Although the disabled have made significant progress in achieving the American dream, they still face unfairness in the workplace under a provision that allows employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage,” said Representative Stearns. ”Protections for disabled workers were excluded in the Fair Labor Standards Act in the mistaken belief that they were not as productive as other workers. Workers with disabilities contribute to our economy and to our society, and they deserve equal pay for equal work.”

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, expressed strong support for the legislation. “The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act is a long-overdue effort to correct an injustice written into a law meant to protect all American workers from abuse and exploitation. Workers with disabilities were excluded from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act because of the false belief that we cannot be as productive as Americans without disabilities. Courage and creativity are required to replace the misguided benevolence that has historically shaped policies toward people with disabilities with real opportunity for our equal employment and full participation in the workplace. We applaud Representatives Stearns and Bishop and we hope that a significant majority of their colleagues possess the courage and creativity to end over seventy years of exploitation of people with disabilities.”

“Ensuring that Americans with disabilities receive equal pay for equal work is more than a matter of basic fairness, it’s a long-overdue acknowledgement of the value disabled Americans contribute to our workplaces every day,” said Congressman Bishop. ”I hope all of my colleagues will support this bipartisan effort to correct over seventy years of injustice.” 

The legislation has also found strong support from New York Governor David A. Paterson, a member of and consultant to the NFB, who urged immediate passage of the Act. “It is long past time for the anachronistic provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows workers with disabilities to be paid less than the federal minimum wage to be phased out. As Samuel R. Bagenstos, former principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, has reported, Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act does not encourage mainstream employers to hire disabled workers; does not result in the training of workers with disabilities to participate in competitive employment; and does not even produce wages tied to the alleged lower productivity of disabled workers, which is a myth in any event.  This anachronism must be stricken from America’s statute books, and workers with disabilities must receive equal pay for equal work and an equal opportunity to succeed.”

Cosponsors of the legislation are Lou Barletta (R-PA), Gregg Harper (R-MS), Peter T. King (R-NY), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), and Edolphus Towns (D-NY). The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.