Professor Peter Blanck Addresses "Subminimum" Pay for Disabled Workers with Bloomberg
‘Subminimum’ Pay for Disabled Workers Moves Closer to Extinction
(Bloomberg | oct. 12, 2021) Nearly 80 miles outside of Washington, a low-slung, almost windowless building abuts train tracks. Inside, socially distanced people work at long tables, some for less than minimum wage. Linoleum floors and graphic signage conjure memories of elementary school.
This is where Benji K. reports to work five days a week, as he’s done for 28 years. He’s nearly 50 years old now, with a graying mullet and a firm handshake. He wears a Kiss T-shirt—he’s a diehard fan, after seeing them perform live when he was young. He’s created a Kiss museum in his basement, where he collects band memorabilia, and dolls in particular—"too many to count,” he says.
Here at NW Works Inc., Benji, identified by his first name to help preserve his anonymity, assembles screw kits for SouthernCarlson, a tool and supply distributor. He uses a customized and color-coded pegboard to methodically count out the required number of screws. Benji then puts the screws in individual plastic bags. He’s paid based on the number of screw kits he completes each day.
“This is my favorite right here,” Benji said, referencing the kits. “I did 50 yesterday.”
Benji is one of nearly 44,000 workers in the U.S. who legally earn less than the minimum wage solely because he has a disability. For many, their hourly pay is far lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. At Benji’s workplace in Virginia, workers earn an average of $5.46 ...
... “There are people who can be moved to competitive employment and there are people who would have great difficulty doing that,” said Peter Blanck, head of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. Blanck has studied disability law, as well as the 14(c) program.
“We’re at a novel time where people are looking for ways to reform the 14(c) program, and it’s not as simple as just raising the minimum wage for everyone,” Blanck said. “You might have the same outcome whereby many people with disabilities who don’t need to be there just stay there" ...