Because of a 75 year old section of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, companies that use sheltered workshops to train workers with disabilities, such as Goodwill Industries, can legally pay their employees just pennies an hour. The section of the Fair Labor Standards Act that legalizes this behavior needs to be repealed in order to ensure fair pay and treatment of every employee in today’s workforce. To begin, I will explain the use of sheltered workshops and the timed tests used to determine subminimum wages for employees with disabilities. I will then go on to discuss the history of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and how companies use a section of the legislation to get away with paying their employees with disabilities so little. And finally I will discuss the ethics behind the use of this piece of legislation and also provide a counter argument which supports subminimum wages.
Employees who earn subminimum wages usually are employed to work in sheltered workshops. Sheltered workshops are typically set up in the back room of a business. Employee duties in sheltered workshops frequently consist of performing simple repetitive tasks, such as sorting and hanging up donated clothing items. Sheltered workshops were initially intended to provide people with disabilities the vocational training needed to work in a competitive job setting. However, today people working in sheltered workshops are usually stuck here for years—still just earing pennies per hour. Subminimum wages are determined by how fast the employee with a disability can perform a task compared to a person without a disability. For example, the employee may be timed to see how many article of clothing he or she can hang in one minute with a limited number of mistakes. This number is then plugged into an equation to calculate the employee’s hourly wage. So in a sense, the poorer they perform during times tests, the less they earn per hour. The law states that the timed tests must be given periodically.
According to a NBC news report, “Labor Department records show that some Goodwill workers in Pennsylvania earned wages as low as 22, 38 and 41 cents per hour in 2009.” Yes, this is completely legal. In order to pay worker with disabilities below the federal minimum wage employers must first obtain a special minimum wage certificate from the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, which can be done online. The U.S. Department of Labor defines a person with a disability as “one whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those relating to age or injury.” So essentially, the law states that the worth of a person with a disability is determined by how many shirts they can hang in one minute.
The piece of legislation that makes subminimum wage legal is Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Section 14 of the FLSA allows paying tipped workers, new hires under the age of 20,...