Once again we are asking each of you to act to protect Misericordia’s on campus work programs and the employment opportunities they provide our loved ones. The United States Commission on Civil Rights held a briefing in Washington, D.C. on November 15 and is accepting comments through December 15on the following topic: “Subminimum Wages: Impacts on the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities.” The way the topic is phrased makes it clear where the Commission is going. It uses the derogatory term “subminimum wage” and turns special wages that accommodate an individual’s abilities and enhances their employment prospects into a violation of their civil rights.
As we have previously discussed, special wages for those with disabilities is permitted under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and has been in existence for over 80 years. This provision permits employers to pay individuals with disabilities a specialized wage based on their ability to perform the job. At no point does the statute refer to these wages as “subminimum.” The purpose of Section 14(c) is to help individuals with disabilities to obtain employment. No one is forced to work at 14(c) wages. Therefore, the statute preserves choices for our loved ones; it preserves their civil right to choose the employment setting that best suits them.
Last spring when we asked you to submit comments on 14(c) to the Department of Labor, your response was overwhelming. There were far more comments supporting 14(c) than opposing it. It was important that the Department of Labor hear from the families that would be affected by a repeal of this law. We must now do the same with our comments to the US Commission on Civil Rights. The briefing held by the Commission a week ago had a full list of previously selected speakers. Virtually every speaker opposed Section 14(c) and wants to see it eliminated along with work programs like those provided by Misericordia. The Commission needs to understand that the repeal of Section 14(c) will mean the loss of employment for men and women with significant intellectual or developmental disabilities, like our loved ones. It is important that the Commission hear from us, the families. The Commission must recognize that here is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to employment of individuals with disabilities. The real civil rights issue here is choice. The right of our loved ones to choose the employment option that best meets their needs must be respected. To repeal 14(c) and deny our family members that choice would violate their civil rights.
Therefore, please submit your comment to the US Commission on Civil Rights BY DECEMBER 15.
Comments can also be mailed to the Commission at the following address:
Also, for your reference below is the comment Liz and I submitted to the Commission. Please make sure you put your comment in your own words. Individual comments have a much greater impact than those that look like copies of others’ comments.
Dear Commissioners: Our daughter Sarah lives at Misericordia in Chicago, IL. Misericordia is a non-profit entity serving over 600 children and adults with intellectual disabilities who require around-the-clock care. Sarah is 37 years old, has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and is intellectually about three to four years old. She needs assistance to perform all activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing, toileting, eating, and medicating. We strongly support the special wages permitted by Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is essential that 14(c) remain available to those served by Misericordia. Misericordia operates a number of work programs on its campus. The purpose of these programs is to provide job training to the men and women Misericordia serves and to provide them with a life of dignity. All of these programs operate at a loss. These programs are operated solely to give Misericordia residents the pride and self-esteem that come from holding a job. Without Section 14(c), the cost of these work programs would triple. Misericordia would be forced to employ fewer of its residents and employ them for fewer hours. The loss of job opportunities for our loved ones would not be replaced by off-campus jobs. Many Misericordia residents, including our Sarah, cannot obtain or maintain an off-campus job at the minimum wage. Sarah's intellectual and behavioral challenges preclude community employment. Her only opportunity at employment is an on-campus job where she can receive the constant care and support she requires. We hope that through Misericordia's excellent training programs one-day Sarah can hold a job in Misericordia's laundry or recycling program. But, if Section 14(c) is eliminated, that will become impossible. The end of 14(c) would mean the end of our dream that Sarah will one day have a job on Misericordia's campus. The special wages permitted by Section 14(c) do not violate Sarah’s civil rights. In fact, Section 14(c) protects Sarah’s right to choose the work environment that best meets her needs. Depriving Sarah of that choice and relegating her to spend her days in non-work activities would violate her civil rights. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this important issue.
Liz and Scott Mendel
Scott M. Mendel
K&L Gates LLP
70 W. Madison St.
Chicago, IL 60602