by Mary Faithfull, Executive Director
Some Texas workers are making as little as pennies per hour while some of their bosses are making six figure salaries. And it’s legal because of a labor law passed in 1938 that’s been challenged but never changed.
Before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed 26 years ago this July 26, and since that time, people with disabilities have fought long and hard for equality and full integration into society. While our nation has made important strides in fighting disability discrimination, people with disabilities still struggle to access competitive, integrated employment where they earn at least minimum wage, work among non-disabled co-workers, and are paid based on their skills and experience.
That’s because employers who hold special Section 14(c) certificates issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) have been allowed for 70 years to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. Today, most of the employers who use 14(c) certificates also keep their employees segregated from the community in sheltered workshops.
As part of a national effort to examine the treatment of people with disabilities in sheltered workshops, Disability Rights Texas – the protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Texas – initiated an investigation in the state, collecting data and information and interviewing people with disabilities in sheltered workshops and their employers.
To bring these concerns to the attention of all Texans, Disability Rights Texas release a report in 2016 called, “Living on a Dime and Left Behind: How a Depression-Era Labor Law Cheats Texans with Disabilities.”
The investigation identified five critical concerns:
- Sheltered workshops do not provide meaningful opportunities for skill advancement to Texans with disabilities.
- Sheltered workshops create a segregated and isolated environment ripe for exploitation.
- Wages in sheltered workshops are minimal, frequently miscalculated, and exclusively controlled by the provider.
- Sheltered work is not leading to competitive integrated employment in the community.
- Texas state vocational rehabilitation services are not providing vocational services to Texans with disabilities leaving many individuals stuck in workshop settings.
The report provides details of the investigation, stories of people in the workshops, and most importantly, recommendations for making changes. DRTx’s investigation and findings underscore that Texas is at a turning point, with a chance to make a critical difference in the lives of Texans with disabilities. Texas has before it both an opportunity, and an obligation, to ensure people with disabilities have access to the same employment opportunities as all other Texas citizens.
Additionally, the new documentary, “Bottom Dollars,” produced by Rooted in Rights, exposes the exploitation of people with disabilities across the U.S. through personal stories and expert interviews. It also presents clear employment alternatives with competitive wages and community inclusion. DRTx partnered with the UT Center for Disability Studies and other co-hosts to hold a screening of the film in Austin in October along with a panel discussion about the Livinig on a Dime report.