WASHINGTON (AP) — More than a dozen advocacy groups are urging President Barack Obama to include mentally disabled workers in his call to raise the federal minimum wage for employees of government contractors.
The groups, including the National Organization on Disability and the National Down Syndrome Congress, said Tuesday they are concerned that Obama's plan for an executive order raising wages to $10.10 an hour won't cover many disabled people who now earn less than the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
Thousands of disabled workers are employed by government contractors under a federal program that allows companies to pay a subminimum wage to those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
"We believe that all Americans should be afforded minimum wage protections, including those workers with disabilities," the groups said in a letter to Obama and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under a law that has been in place since 1938, employers can seek permission from the Labor Department to operate sheltered workshops where disabled employees are segregated from other workers and paid less than minimum wage — as little as pennies an hour. About 420,000 disabled are employed in sheltered workshops around the country, though advocacy groups estimate that less than 50,000 work for government contractors.
Wages for these workers are a fraction of the minimum wage, calculated based on comparing their productivity level to that of a nondisabled worker. Qualifying companies that hire disabled workers get a preference when it comes to federal contract awards and Medicaid funds to pay for support services for the employees.