Organization believes in equal pay for workers with disabilities
Online PR News – 16-March-2016 – Upper Marlboro / Maryland – Melwood, one of the largest employers of people with disabilities (“differing abilities” is the organization’s preferred terminology) in the Washington, D.C. region, recently ceased application of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The move was orchestrated to acknowledge February 10 as Development Disabilities Day at the Maryland Legislature, as well as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in March.
While various organizations battle out the validity of Section 14(c) which allows employers to pay workers below minimum wage for those whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical, developmental, cognitive, mental or age-related disability, Melwood determined that the law is counter to the organization’s vision. Under 14(c), the lower wage is derived by comparing the productivity of workers with disabilities against that of “typical” workers deemed “competent” for the job. Melwood decided to end the practice and take a stand on advocacy by example. The organization produced a white paper on the topic as well.
“Melwood was founded more than 50 years ago with a vision of a world in which people with differing abilities are fully included,” explained Cari DeSantis, president and CEO of Melwood. “The challenge back then was in just getting an opportunity to work. Today, it is ensuring that people with differing abilities are set up for success and are not subjected to pay inequities and disparate treatment in the workplace.” DeSantis points out that the law, as it stands today (virtually unchanged for the past 78 years), allows the payment of subminimum wages to people with documented disabilities based on productivity while making no such allowances for less-productive “typically abled” workers. It stands in stark contrast to the principles of general civil rights, and as outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, she said.
Opponents argue that ending 14(c) will negatively impact the people it is intended to help and that it will result in closing sheltered workshops and other lost employment opportunities. Other arguments include that raising wages will put certain federal benefits at risk. “While we understand those concerns, we believe that Melwood’s story and success prove that these arguments are often overstated and can be overcome,” DeSantis added.
Melwood has spent the past three years analyzing the costs of eliminating 14(c) practices and readied the organization to make the change. “We believe that we can minimize the impact by leveraging better technology and new strategies in training and work distribution,” said DeSantis.
Section 14(c) was inserted in the FLSA in 1938 at the height of the Depression and has remained virtually unchanged for over 78 years, even as technology and work conditions have dramatically improved work efficiency. With over 1,400 people in its workforce, including more than 800 workers with differing abilities, Melwood is at the leading edge of an emerging national movement to end pay discrimination for workers with differing abilities.
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Melwood is a nonprofit organization that advocates for and empowers people of differing abilities to transform their own lives through unique opportunities to work and play in the community. Melwood envisions a world where people with differing abilities are fully included. Using an innovative and effective social entrepreneurial model, Melwood offers job training, employment, life skill improvement, community support and recreation opportunities to more than 2050 people each year in the DC metropolitan area. Melwood operates a training program graduating approximately 100 workers with differing abilities each year and employs more than 1,400 workers, including over 800 with differing abilities. For more information visit www.melwood.org