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Maryland Votes to End Subminimum Wage

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network commends the Maryland Legislature for passing the Ken Capone Equal Employment Act, which will require Maryland employers who pay their employees with disabilities below the minimum wage to phase out their use of subminimum wage in three to four years. It would also amend Section 3-414 of the Maryland state code so that Maryland’s Commissioner of Labor and Industry can no longer (After October 2016) issue new Section 14 (c) certificates, which initially authorize sheltered workshops and other agencies to pay individuals with disabilities below the minimum wage.

These new developments have come out of a long history of segregated work and unequal opportunity for people with disabilities. Maryland is only the second state to pass a law requiring a full phase-out of subminimum wage, the first state being New Hampshire. For the nearly seventy years since the passage of Section (14) c of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, employers have been able to use Section 14 (c) certificates to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage. This law has led not to the creation of greater opportunity for people with disabilities, but instead far less— Subminimum wage jobs are almost always segregated, offering the employees no opportunities to be part of their community or to make enough money to support themselves. As the AbilityOne Commission noted in its recent release, Declaration In Support of Minimum Wage for All People Who Are Blind or Have Significant Disabilities, federal policies have changed for the better since Section 14 (c) was first implemented and society now expects that with the right supports, any person with a disability will be able to become a productive worker and member of their community. The AbilityOne Commission itself has recommended that all non-profit agencies receiving AbilityOne contracts develop new strategies for ensuring that workers under AbilityOne contracts get paid at least the federal minimum wage. We applaud this recognition by the AbilityOne Commission and urge them to act swiftly to urge compliance by contractors within the AbilityOne program.

ASAN has long maintained that the payment of subminimum wage is unjust, exploitative, and isolates people with disabilities from their peers in competitive employment. Its members participate in a number of legislative committees and organizations dedicated to ensuring people with disabilities are treated the same as all other employees. ASAN, in connection with Disability Rights Ohio and the National Federation of the Blind, recently filed and won an administrative law case holding that the plaintiffs, factory workers with disabilities, had the right to be paid the minimum wage.

For further information on the exciting developments in Maryland and about the AbilityOne Commission’s recommendations, please contact Samantha Crane, Director of Legal and Public Policy, at scrane@autisticadvocacy.org, or Kelly Israel, ASAN’s Policy Analyst, at kisrael@autisticadvocacy.org.

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