House votes to repeal bill allowing subminimum wages for disabled workers


STATE HOUSE – The House today voted to repeal a law that allows employers to pay workers with disabilities below the minimum wage.

The legislation (2020-H 7287)  to repeal the law, sponsored by House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, eliminates a practice that resulted in a federal Department of Justice lawsuit against Rhode Island over the rights of intellectually or developmentally disabled Rhode Islanders. In 2014, the state entered a settlement that, among other things, ended the use of sheltered workshops where disabled individuals in day programs performed work for wages significantly below the minimum wage. But the state law allowing subminimum wage for disabled people remains on the books.

“Disabled individuals are entitled to the same rights, protections and dignity as all Rhode Islanders. Of course they should be protected by our minimum wage laws. While I’m relieved that state day programs for the disabled stopped engaging in this practice a few years ago, there’s no excuse for any law that allows anyone to take advantage of disabled people and pay them less than other workers. We must repeal this law to ensure that no one abuses disabled Rhode Islanders in this way ever again,” said Leader Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).

According to Robert Marshall, policy consultant to the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, laws that allow disabled workers to be paid subminimum wages have been used to control, dehumanize, and segregate people with disabilities. In Rhode Island and other states, they led to the use of “sheltered workshops,” places where disabled workers are paid pennies on the dollar in a segregated setting, while companies profit.

Such workshops were used in state programs for the disabled until the 2014 agreement with the Justice Department, which had sued the state to end them because they interfere with the federally guaranteed right of disabled individuals to be served in the most integrated setting possible.

“Paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage is a civil rights violation and the practice must be put to an end,” said Marshall. “All people have the right to fully participate and contribute to their community. People with disabilities have been integral in our economy and society, and are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities.”

The legislation is cosponsored by House Majority Whip John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), Rep. Thomas E. Noret (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick), Rep. Joe Serodio (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), and Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence). It now goes to the Senate.



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