February 10, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,NW
Washington, DC 20500
The Honorable Thomas Perez
Secretary of Labor
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave.,NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Mr President and Secretary Perez,
Thank you for all that you are doing to ensure workers are paid fair wages with your upcoming executive order to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 for government contractors. I implore you to include workers with disabilities, workers currently making sub-minimum wages under the antiquated Fair Labor Standards Act, 14 (c), in this executive order.
After the State of the Union address, I was shocked to learn the details of 14(c). While our country has a long and illustrious history of unfair labor and pay practices for marginalized minority groups, we also have a history of enacting legislation to right the previous generation’s wrongs of discrimination based upon race, religion, and gender. It seems like now we are down to just one marginalized group that remains unprotected by legislation regarding unfair labor and pay practices. This marginalized minority group, people with disabilities, is the largest minority group in the world.
It goes without saying that including disabled workers in the executive order is the socially just thing to do because each of our citizens have and deserve equal rights, but the impact will be far greater than just benefiting today’s disabled workers. Disability rights impact each and every one of us, as we can each become a member of the disability community at any time. For example, if you lose your sight, you are a member. There are any number of things that could occur at any moment and I, too, am a member. If you have a child or grandchild with a disability, you are part of this community as an ally. This is a case where it is easy, necessary even, to imagine how this legislation would directly impact each of us. Would you think it is fair to be paid sub-minimum wages based on your own disability status? I certainly wouldn’t and the fact that in 2014 my son or any disabled person can legally be paid pennies to work is unconscionable.
I am an ally of the disability community because my third child, a wonderful, caring and committed young man of whom I could not be more proud, has multiple disabilities . My 14 year old son, like his sisters, has the right to live any life he chooses, the right to grow up knowing his hopes and dreams are available to him. My son has multiple disabilities that without the right accommodations, supports, and opportunities can be disabling. However, with the proper access, opportunities, and supports, he is fully capable of living any life he chooses. He deserves and has the same rights as an American citizen, and is protected against disability based discrimination under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. Why would 14 (c), established in the 1930s, have enough power to to negate these clearly established rights?
Not only have disabled people been excluded from new legislation protecting their right to equal pay, but 14(c) provides the legal right to discriminate against people with disabilities by paying them a tiny fraction of the minimum wage standard . How is this possible almost 24 years after the ADA was passed? While 14(c) is regarding labor and pay, its implications are far reaching – it perpetuates a narrative that individuals with disabilities are not equal and that it’s okay, even sanctioned by the government, to discriminate against them. (ex: If the government does it, why can’t I?).
Like accessibility and supports, fair and equal pay is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and unemployment that exists in disproportionate numbers for individuals with disabilities.
I am fundamentally disturbed that our tax dollars are paid to government contractors that are legally permitted to pay individuals with disabilities a fraction of the federal minimum wage; I am equally appalled that these employers would feel comfortable in doing so. 14(c) was enacted in 1930, which is the equivalent of the dark ages for social justice, civil rights and equality. It’s astonishing, in 2014, when so much has changed through legislation protecting the rights we all inherently possess, that this antiquated form of indentured servitude for disabled people still exists. It is inconceivable to think about replacing “workers with disabilities” in 14 (c) with any other minority group and it being used today.
As long as it is legal to pay workers with disabilities pennies on the dollar the Americans with Disabilities Act’s promise of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency cannot be fully realized.
People with disabilities deserve equal rights and pay now. Our children with disabilities must grow up knowing that their hard work will be rewarded just as the work of their brothers and sisters, classmates and friends without disabilities will be rewarded, with fair wages. As you stated in your address, “The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.” As long as inequitable wages based on disability status are allowed, this access is simply not afforded to each of our citizens. We can and must do better.