Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and six of her senate colleagues today requested information from Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on the Department of Labor's (DOL) oversight and enforcement of employers that use 14(c) waivers to hire workers with disabilities and pay them less than the federal minimum wage. The senators also expressed support for phasing out the discriminatory waivers in a responsible way.
Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lets DOL issue certificates to eligible employers allowing them to pay workers with disabilities a subminimum wage. According to public DOL data, employers held more than 1,700 14(c) certificates covering more than 150,000 workers eligible to receive a subminimum wage as of January 2018.
"These waivers are inherently discriminatory and should be phased out in a responsible way," the senators wrote. "While the Department continues to issue these waivers, however, we are concerned by past abuses of the program and hope to better understand the extent to which the Department is able to prevent employers' mistreatment of and discrimination against workers with disabilities."
Reports of extremely low earnings-in some cases, well under a dollar per hour-and other disturbing abuses of 14(c) waivers have led to concern among self-advocates and experts in the disability community, as well as policymakers on the state and federal level, that the waivers are both inherently discriminatory and create a high potential for abuse of workers with disabilities.
To put this matter in perspective, Cape Cod Today reached out to Rosalie Edes, President of Cape Abilities. Ms. Edes responded immediately, "We were aware that Senator Warren would be issuing this press release and in fact, we discussed this issue with her office as she was preparing the request to the Department of Labor. We applaud Senator Warren’s work on this critical issue and we totally agree with her position that this is discriminatory and can lead to abuses of workers with disabilities."
Rosalie continued, "Cape Abilities ceased any use of a 14c waiver a few years ago. All individuals who are employed at our three social enterprises (the 6A Farm, Chatham Farm Store and Yarmouth Thrift Shop) are compensated at state (higher than federal) minimum wage or better and we also only place individuals with community employers who are willing to put them on their payroll at minimum wage or better. We are extremely grateful that we have more than 85 different Cape businesses who partner with us and demonstrate that they value a diverse, trained workforce and that they, too, provide these individuals with a fair wage for the work they perform."
While DOL makes public a list of 14(c) certificate holders and the number of employees the certificate holder is permitted to hire, neither Congress nor the American public knows how many individuals with disabilities are actually employed under the more than 1,700 certificates or what their rates of pay are. The senators pressed DOL to publicly report the pay rates of individuals with disabilities paid by employers using 14(c) certificates, at the national and state level. In addition, the senators requested a variety of data on the Department's evaluation of certificate applications, violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act among certificate holders, and the Department's revocation of certificates, among other information.
Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined Senator Warren in sending the letter. Text of letter (PDF)