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Sheltered

As an employment specialist I work in the community, partnering with business to find or create jobs for persons with disabilities. This is a very rewarding job which I adore, but with all good things, we also find something distressing.  One thing that I find quite troublesome is the use of sheltered workshops.  Not a lot of people outside the world of disability know what a sheltered workshop is.  I will try to explain it, from what I know.

After WWII and the return of wounded soldiers, the 14(c) certificate was created by the Department of Labor, this allowed companies to hire persons with a disability and pay them based on the work they could perform. If an employee without a disability (worker 1) could complete 10 assemblies a day, and the person with a disability (worker2) produced 2 a day, the company could pay the person with a disability a wage equal to this percent of completed work so based on this- worker 1 makes $10.00 an hour, worker 2 makes a 1/5 of this, as he creates 1/5 of the product so he earns $2.00 an hour.  While the premise of this program was to encourage those who were wounded to return to work, and give them a chance to build confidence in their abilities, it was meant to be a step towards competitive employment.

In the many years since its induction, the 14(c) certificate has been used by employers/agencies as a way to “warehouse” persons with disabilities. Often times an agency states they work with persons with a disability to get jobs.  They then often have their own sheltered workshop which they place the applicant, who then stays for years, making sub minimum wages, from nearly nothing to $3 an hour.  And this is legal.  The agencies often receive contracts to provide a product to a larger business and are paid for the outcome.

An example could be ABC agency has a contract with DEF Corporation. DEF Corporation sends large batches of carpet samples to ABC agency to have them sorted, cut down and stuffed into envelopes to be sent out to customers.  “Employees” at ABC Company sort all the different colors into bins; they cut them to size and then stuff envelopes with the different samples.  If the vocational staff can stuff 360 envelopes a shift and makes $7.65 an hour, each envelope equals .17.  So at the end of an 8 hour shift, if a person with a disability stuffs 20 envelopes they receive $3.45 for that shift, or .43 an hour. At the same time, let’s imagine the contract is for 1.00 per envelope delivered back to DEF Corporation.  Now we know not all persons will produce at the same rate, and even at the 360 a shift, it equals .45 an envelope, so ABC agency is profiting a minimum of .55 per envelope.

On top of the profit they receive from the contract, many times they are also billing Medicaid Home and Community Based Waivers for Day Services.   They can bill up to $22.64 an hour per person.  This billing is for providing services to a person with a disability, they essentially are paying slave wages, and yet bill for a service. Many times due to negotiations, seasonal shifts and other contract factors, the workshop may not have any work to be performed, so the “employee” has no work to complete on these days, and makes no income at all, but the ABC agency will still bill for day services, for forcing persons to sit around and not work.

This is not employment or not job-training, this is exploitation and segregation. If the staff only stuff 90 envelopes will their wage reflect this, no because they are guaranteed a minimum wage per hour. It is only legal to pay a person with a disability a sub minimum, piece rate. To add insult to injury, agencies are self-monitored; they send in reports annually to prove performance of the persons with disabilities, there is no validation of their reports, no checks and balances to ensure persons are tested at any interval to gauge an increase in skill and speed.  Many of these agencies state they are job training sites, but they have no motivation or incentive to move any of their employees into competitive employment, that would cost them money.

If all of the persons with disabilities move into actual employment, the agency loses the cheap labor as well as the ability to bill for services.  While I understand many use some of this money to provide other needed services, these services should not be built on the backs of those receiving sub minimum wages.

I believe all persons have the right to be employed and with that be protected with the very basic minimum guarantees of fair wages.

Certificate 14 (c) can be found here https://www.dol.gov/whd/FOH/FOH_Ch64.pdf (pages 27-31)

-Heather D.

PILR is hosting 2 showings of Rooted in Rights “Bottom Dollars” Movie at The Hutchinson Public Library Auditorium at 1pm and 6pm. Please join us: https://www.pilr.org/event/bottom-dollars-movie/

Would you want to work for less than 3 dollars an hour?