U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R--Miss.) introduced a bill yesterday that seeks to provide fair and moral pay to workers with disabilities.
The "Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013" aims to remove a section of a 1938 labor law that allows employers to apply for federal waivers to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage.
This waiver program has left some disabled employees making as little as three cents per hour.
"Meaningful work deserves fair pay," said Harper, a third-term lawmaker whose 23-year-old son lives with an intellectual disability. "This dated provision unjustly prohibits workers with disabilities from reaching their full potential."
Current labor laws push approximately 300,000 people with disabilities into sheltered, subminimum-wage employment. Alternatively, Harper's legislation facilitates access to alternative work or training opportunities that are more cost effective and produce more competitive outcomes.
Some critics of the sheltered, subminimum-wage model argue that employers benefit on the backs of disabled workers. One such nationwide organization, the National Federation of the Blind, says that this is an issue of fundamental freedoms.
"We applaud Congressman Harper for having the courage to confront over seventy years of entrenched but false thinking about the capacity of people with disabilities," said Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind.
The bill requires the secretary of labor to discontinue the issuance of new special wage certificates. Waivers held by private, for-profit entities will be revoked one year after enactment, those held by public entities two years after enactment, and those held by private nonprofit entities three years after enactment. Section 14(c) of the "Fair Labor Standards Act" (FLSA) would be repealed in the third year.