Arkansas Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities

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National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2022

A Fair Day’s Wage for a Fair Day’s Work

by Jon Taylor

Yesterday we shared an article about Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. If you happened to miss it, it’s on the GCDD Facebook page. Or click the following link to read it:

The Subminimum Wage for Workers With Disabilities Is a Disgrace | Teen Vogue

The article discusses how an outdated section of an 84-year-old piece of legislation allows certain types of employers to pay people with disabilities far less than minimum wage. It also highlights the story of one Arkansas woman with cerebral palsy. Her story starts with the joy of having a job and ends with the horrible realization that she’s being paid subminimum wage. It is very difficult to support yourself on minimum wage. And on subminimum wage, it’s impossible.

As of July 1, of this year, the U.S. Department of Labor shows Arkansas with 21 active 14 (c) certificates and 13 are pending approval. That report also shows that 824 Arkansans are being paid subminimum wage. Click the following link to see for yourself: 14(c) Certificate Holders | U.S. Department of Labor ( The people receiving these wages work in sheltered workshops – segregated environments where the employees are all people with disabilities.

Section 14 of the FLSA states that “the administrator, to the extent necessary in order to prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment, shall by regulations or by orders provide for the employment of individuals whose earning capacity is impaired by age or physical or mental deficiency or injury…at such wages lower than the minimum wage applicable…”

In 1938, paying people with disabilities any wage, in any environment, was progressive. The Fair Labor Standards Act opened a narrow path to employment for people with disabilities that previously had not existed. But that was then. Subminimum wages and segregated environments are outdated relics of an economy 84 years past.

In 2022, paying less than minimum wage, in segregated environments is not fair. In 2022 people with disabilities can be, and are, part of the general workforce. In today’s economy, people with disabilities have access to resources undreamed of in 1938 – Training, job coaches (in-person and virtual), and technologies that enable people to work in integrated and inclusive settings.

What always astonishes me is that there is resistance to paying people minimum wage for any form of work. Proponents of subminimum wage believe that eliminating sheltered workshops is discriminatory, because people with disabilities should have the choice of where to work. I was told the following story as an example of why sheltered work is important:

A disability service provider had a client who found a job that would be considered competitive, integrated employment. They would make at least minimum wage and have the chance to work alongside people without disabilities. After a short time, the client was unhappy in the job and asked to come back to the sheltered workshop. The provider presented that situation as an example of why sheltered workshops are important and shouldn’t be phased out.

My response to that situation is this: How many people are still working in the first job they ever had?

The answer is: Very, very few.

Virtually anyone who has been in the workforce has had a job that just didn’t work out. There are countless reasons to leave a job. Such as:

  • You didn’t have the rights skills to succeed in that role.
  • The workplace culture wasn’t a good fit for you.
  • You and your co-workers didn’t get along.
  • Your boss…
  • You found a better job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty, and this number is projected to grow.

Just because one job doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again. And if someone can work, they should be paid at least minimum wage. Regarding this client, along with their service provider, they should review the total experience they had at that job. What worked and what did they like about the job? Followed by what didn’t work and what didn’t they like. It’s a process of discovery, where a person with a disability can find a job that best suits them.

What they shouldn’t do is give up on the first try and be stuck in a subminimum wage job. It’s not fair.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is not written in stone. It’s been amended 20 times. A proposed amendment, House Bill 2373, the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, would eliminate sheltered workshops. But not overnight – that wouldn’t be fair. It would happen over a four-year period. Employers currently utilizing subminimum wage would receive technical assistance and grant funding from the Office of Disability Employment to transition their business model to competitive, integrated employment.

Thirteen states, including our neighbors in Tennessee, have already passed legislation eliminating subminimum wage for people with disabilities.

In 2022, all Arkansans deserve a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.

About the Arkansas Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities

The Council is a federally funded state agency that promotes integration, inclusion and independence for Arkansans with developmental disabilities. Council members are self-advocates, relatives and/or caregivers of individuals with DD, state agency directors, and representation from nonprofit and private organizations. The Council works to encourage self-advocacy; to remove barriers to information, services and support; to advocate for policy changes; to develop and support coalitions; and to educate community leaders. For more information about the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and its mission, browse more pages on this website, or call 501-682-2897. Follow the Council on Facebook and Twitter @gcddar. You can also find Arkansas GCDD on YouTube.