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AAPD Supports the Department of Labor’s Review of 14(c) Certificates and Calls for an End to Subminimum Wage

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Press Release

For Immediate Release: September 26, 2023
Contact: Jess Davidson at jdavidson@aapd.com; 970-631-6829

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, The Department of Labor announced they will begin a comprehensive review of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act to determine the future viability of the program. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) released the following statement in support of the Department of Labor’s announcement:

AAPD is excited by the Department of Labor’s decision to review the viability of the 14(c) certificate program, which has allowed employers to pay disabled workers subminimum wages in segregated settings for almost a century. Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to obtain certificates to pay employees with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage, or subminimum wage.

Disabled employees of 14(c) certificate holders complete the same workplace tasks as their nondisabled peers but are not paid equally for their work. Since there is no minimum wage requirement for 14(c) certificate holders, these employers can pay however little they want. Further, these workers are often warehoused together and do not receive opportunities for career advancement or development.

Research from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights shows that between 2017 and 2018, the average wage of a person with a disability working under a 14(c) certificate was $3.34 per hour, less than half of the federal minimum wage. The Commission’s research also shows that Section 14(c) has often resulted in the segregation of disabled people into sheltered workshops, despite the fact that integrated employment and community settings are more beneficial and productive for all workers.

“14(c) certificates are inherently based on a deeply flawed and false idea that disabled workers’ labor is worth less. It is a policy rooted in a charity model of disability that communicates to disabled employees, ‘you should be grateful for whatever you can get,’” said Maria Town, AAPD President and CEO.  “Fifty years after the signing of the Rehabilitation Act, it is clear that what we need to improve disabled people’s economic self-sufficiency is not charity – it is greater enforcement of our civil rights and advancement of fair labor practices. 14(c) certificate programs benefit from our community’s underemployment, while only furthering the forced poverty many disabled people face.”

“Section 14(c), subminimum wage, and segregated employment are antiquated concepts. Amidst a growing national conversation of what protections workers should have and what constitutes a fair wage, and against a backdrop of rising costs of living, greater living expenses for people with disabilities compared to non-disabled peers, and a time when disabled people’s financial independence is greatly increased since the creation of these programs, paying disabled workers a subminimum wage is indefensible,” Town continued.

Town concluded, “With training, support, and time-tested strategies like customized employment, people with disabilities can competently engage in competitive, integrated employment without the need for Section 14(c) certificates. Transitioning from employees working under 14(c) certificates to competitive integrated employment is not just the right thing to do, but it is also proven to provide a competitive advantage for companies, improving profits and productivity. We hope many members of the disability community, alongside our many allies who care about fair labor and equal pay, will make their voices heard during the Department of Labor’s review of the program.”

As Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su said at today’s announcement, it is vital that the Department of Labor hear from everyone, but especially people with disabilities, as they re-examine the 14(c) certificate program and its future viability. Our community must mobilize and share our stories and experiences with subminimum wag. AAPD will provide more information about participating in the Department’s review as it becomes available.

Relevant Issue Facts and Statistics: 

  • Many states have already eliminated subminimum wage: Sixteen states have passed legislation eliminating subminimum wage; six states introduced legislation eliminating subminimum wage within their chambers.

  • Transitioning to competitive integrated employment for all workers is possible: Between 2019 and 2022, the number of workers employed under 14(c) declined by almost half – decreasing from 120,000 workers in 2019 to 67,000 workers in 2022, with many workers now employed in integrated settings earning competitive wages.

  • Workers with disabilities deserve equal pay for equal work. As of 2019, a majority of 14(c) employees earned less than 3.40 an hour$53.44 per week, and only $213.76 per month.