Senator Durazo Moves To Prohibit Paying Workers With Disabilities Less than the California Minimum Wage

Thursday, March 04, 2021

SACRAMENTO, CA – Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) has introduced SB 639, legislation that would prohibit paying workers with disabilities less than the California minimum wage. SB 639 advances economic justice for workers with disabilities by phasing out the payment of sub-minimum wage and transitions workers with disabilities to competitive, integrated employment. 

“Every single person who works deserves to be treated with dignity and that begins with being paid at least the legal minimum wage,” said Senator Durazo. “The fact that it is legal to pay those with a disability less than minimum wage is disgraceful and a blatant violation of their civil rights. This is the year we end this outdated and unjust practice in California.”

Since 1938, Section 214 (c)(1)(A) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has given California employers the ability to apply for a certificate that allows them to pay employees with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. This FLSA 14(c) certificate was intended to provide opportunities for employment for World War I veterans with disabilities, but instead created segregated workplaces, and the unemployment rate of persons with disabilities are twice as high as other workers.

What has actually materialized under FSLA is a pool of highly exploited labor. Over 5,000 Californians with disabilities are currently working in sheltered workshops and are being paid as little as 15 cents an hour. Sheltered workshops were originally developed to provide employment opportunities for disabled World War I veterans returning from service. Since then, sheltered workshops have morphed in to full-scale operations to primarily employ persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities in segregated settings. Beyond the FSLA, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 made it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers who had disabilities. Yet, sheltered workshops remain in operation and the economic opportunities for people with disabilities continue to erode. SB 639 phases out sheltered workshops, develops a path to integrated employment, and ensures workers with disabilities earn no less than the California minimum wage.

“I commend Senator María Elena Durazo for introducing SB 639, which ends the practice of paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage,” said Andrew Imparato, Executive Director, Disability Rights California (DRC). “DRC firmly believes that working people with disabilities should be paid a fair wage just like every other worker.”

“Any job that pays below the legal minimum wage violates the civil rights of workers,” said Wesley Witherspoon, Chair, State Council on Developmental Disabilities. “Eliminating the use of sub-minimum wages means that people with disabilities will be employed and paid based on basic worker’s rights, like their peers without disabilities, and that no person’s work is worth less than the established minimum. All work is valuable and all workers deserve to be treated with equity.” 

If SB 639 is enacted, California will join the states of Alaska, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Texas, who have already prohibited paying workers with disabilities a subminimum wage.