Disability Rights Ohio, National Federation of the Blind, and Autistic Self Advocacy Network Celebrate Landmark Decision Ordering Fair Pay from Sheltered Workshop
February 3, 2016 / sheltered workshops
In a precedent-setting opinion issued by an administrative law judge from the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL), three clients have been awarded minimum wage going forward and back pay from Seneca Re-Ad, a sheltered workshop run by the Seneca County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The original petition was filed by Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), the National Federation of the Blind, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and the Baltimore law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.
Joe Magers, Pam Steward, and Mark Felton had been paid an average of $2.50 an hour for more than three years and are among the first workers with disabilities ever to invoke the petition process to seek a review of their wages by the USDOL. The administrative law judge found that Seneca Re-Ad has not proven that the petitioners’ disabilities keep them from accomplishing the work. Further, the decision holds that their wages have not been calculated correctly. Therefore, Seneca must pay at least the minimum wage.
“The opinion highlights that each of our clients brings valuable employment skills to the Seneca Re-Ad facility, and their value as workers should be respected,” says DRO Attorney Barbara Corner. “People with disabilities are full and equal members of society and should be paid fairly.”
"Many people are shocked when they find out that it is legal to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage," said Samantha Crane, Legal Director and Director of Public Policy at ASAN. "But what's even more surprising is how rare this type of enforcement action has been until now. We hope this decision puts other workshops on notice that they won't get away with this sort of exploitation."
Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "This decision cuts through the low expectations based on stereotypes and misconceptions that undergird the antiquated and discriminatory subminimum-wage employment model. The National Federation of the Blind is proud of our role in helping these workers to earn compensation that reflects the skilled work that they perform. We believe that this decision sends a strong signal that subminimum wages are an idea whose time has long since passed."