Eleanor J. Bader at Truthout:
The subminimum for disabled workers has its roots in another discriminatory policy and rests on the idea that disabled workers — especially those with intellectual limitations — are less competent and need to be isolated from others. Depression-era Labor Secretary Frances Perkins was a proponent of this idea, and urged Congress to allow a lowered wage for shell-shocked World War I veterans who were having trouble reintegrating into the labor force. Those who “by reason of illness or age or something else are not up to normal production” would benefit, she testified. Her position gained traction and when the Fair Labor Standards Act became law in 1938, it included Section 14(c) to enable employers to pay those deemed disabled an unspecified, but lower, salary.
Fast forward 84 years and the average hourly wage for sheltered workshop participants is currently $3.34. As of July 2020, the most recent data available, the Department of Labor counted 67,288 individuals earning a subminimum wage thanks to 14(c).
Not surprisingly, disability rights groups are working to raise the wage and completely eliminate workshops. Their efforts include legislative advocacy at the state and federal levels, among other strategies.
One key element of their work involves support for The Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, which was introduced by Senators Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) and Steve Daines (R-Montana) earlier this year. The act will phase out the subminimum wage for disabled workers in sheltered workshops over a five-year period. A House version, HR 2733, was introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia).