BURLINGTON — In a report published early this morning, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommended repealing section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act which permits employers to pay less than the minimum wage to individuals with disabilities. During the agency’s investigation, they heard testimony from Dr. Bryan Dague before coming to Vermont as one of two field visits to employment and service provision sites.
On March 4, the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI) in UVM's College of Education and Social Services hosted commissioners and staff from the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Commissioners David Kladney, Debo Adegbile, and Gail Heriot visited Vermont to learn how innovative policies and programs support competitive and inclusive employment for people with disabilities.
This visit was part of the Commission's national investigation into possible civil rights violations when employers pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage. At least 150,000 workers around the U.S. received subminimum wage in 2018. Many worked in settings segregated from non-disabled workers known as sheltered workshops.
The Commission held a public briefing about this in the Fall, and Bryan Dague, Research Assistant Professor at CDCI, testified about the benefits of community-based employment for people with disabilities, employers, and their communities. In March, Bryan hosted a full day field visit with tours of local programs (including the Howard Center) and meetings with Vermont state and agency directors, employers, people with disabilities, and parents.
The Commission’s press release notes key findings from their time in Vermont, Virginia in addition to the testimonies form the November hearing and the thousands of public comments received during their investigation. The information gathered pointed to the recommendation to repeal 14(c):
“The Commission today calls for the end of the Section 14(c) program, because it continues to limit people with disabilities from realizing their full potential,” Catherine E. Lhamon, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “In addition the program suffers from wildly insufficient federal oversight and civil rights review, and apparently routine noncompliance, begging the question why we as a nation continue its operation.”
In 2002 Vermont became the first state to close its sheltered workshops. Now programs in Vermont focus on supporting people with disabilities in community-based employment and college programs. One such example is UVM's Think College Vermont, directed by Dague, which brings students with disabilities to UVM seeking a college experience and career path.