Director of Communications
CHICAGO – As part of the overall FY 2020 City budget, Chicago’s City Council today passed a budget package that includes a provision to phase out the use of sub-minimum wages paid to people with disabilities employed at workplaces run by providers that hold federal 14(c) certificates. The phase out would occur over a period of four years. Access Living welcomes the phase out as an important way to drive change towards improving employment options for people with disabilities statewide, as workers’ rights are also disability rights. Labor allies played a key role in advancing this initiative.
“Given the tremendous advancement of disability rights over the last fifty years, it is beyond time to see workers with disabilities join the 21st century workforce,” said Amber Smock, Access Living’s Director of Advocacy.
While the passage of the Chicago sub-minimum wage phase out is a very small part of the overall budget package, it is an important opportunity to drive state-level investment in improving integrated employment options, particularly for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, as well as improving the wages of staff who provide direct support services. We expect that the phaseout’s passage will serve as notice to state policymakers to stop pushing aside this needed area of improvement and innovation.
For years, especially since the 2011 publication of the National Disability Rights Network’s seminal report “Segregated and Exploited,” disability advocates have pushed to end the practice of allowing the use of federal 14(c) certificates, which allow an employer or provider to pay less, often far less, than minimum wage to workers with disabilities. Currently, the major national legislation under consideration is the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, introduced by Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia.
Illinois is already what is known as an Employment First state, where the first job options for people with disabilities must be community-based, competitive employment. The use of 14(c) certificates stems from the 1937 Fair Labor Standards Act.
It is critical to note that not all workers will see the sub-minimum wage phased out. Tipped workers, who also make less than sub-minimum wage, will not see their wages advance to $15 an hour. This is a missed opportunity to address racial and gender inequity, since the 300,000 tipped workers in Chicago are disproportionately women of color. Given that at least one in five people in the United States has a disability, the likelihood is very strong that this group includes thousands of disabled workers as well. That’s a projected guess of at least 60,000 workers with disabilities. Access Living supports the ongoing work of Raise Chicago and allies to ensure wage parity for all.