Emily Bennett packages products at South Valley Training Company. She works under her 14(c) contract and her employer is able to pay her below minimum wage due to her disability. (Anita Bennett)
Estimated duration: 6-7 minutes
Salt Lake City — Salt Lake City resident Deborah Bowman says her daughter Heather is a “little fighter.”
Bowman said Heather nearly drowned when she was just under two, and doctors initially thought she wouldn’t survive the night. The accident left her blind in her cerebral cortex and lost her reflexes.
Through many treatments, home care, and “a billion miracles,” Heather eventually regained some vision and movement, Bowman said. She’s 40 now and hasn’t regained much of her great athleticism, but she’s been able to get some work done.
For example, Bowman said Heather worked several hours a week for four to five years at South Valley Training Company, a service provider for adults with disabilities, doing tasks such as sorting items and assembling packages of colored pencils. I was.
But because she was working under a 14(c) contract, Heather only made about $2 an hour, Bowman said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a 14(c) contract “permits employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage if they are unproductive in the work they do.”
“14(c)” refers to section 214 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, subsection C, which sets out the conditions under which “disabled workers” are paid less than the minimum wage.
According to a 2020 summary prepared by the University of Utah Disability Center, the policy only applies when a person’s disability interferes with their work, such as blindness, developmental disabilities, or even mental illness or addiction. intended to be
However, there are examples of policy abuse, such as Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises in Illinois. The company lost its 14(c) certification after the U.S. Department of Labor found it exploited nearly 250 of her disabled workers in April 2018. Pay with gift cards instead of wages.
In another case in February 2016, a U.S. Department of Labor administrative judge found a Seneca Riad of Ohio guilty of illegally underpaying 14(c) contractors and denying them reasonable accommodation. pleaded guilty.
Nate Cripps, an attorney at the Utah Center for Disability Law, said he was unaware of any Utah businesses that lost their 14(c) certifications for exploiting workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor maintains a list of all organizations that are certified or seek certification to use 14(c) contracts in the country. The list, last updated on October 1, includes 12 Utah companies.
Currently accredited Utah companies:
- Interim training center in Taylorsville — accredited through December 31st. 15 employees are paid below minimum wage
- Orem’s Valley Personnel Service, Inc. — certified through February 29, 2024. 36 employees are paid below minimum wage
Utah companies with certifications that expired this year:
- Salt Lake City Interior Solutions — Certification expired November 30. One employee paid less than the minimum wage
- Columbus Foundation, Inc., Salt Lake City — Certification expired October 30. 9 employees are paid below the minimum wage
Utah companies awaiting certification as of October 1:
- The Work Activity Center, Inc. West Valley City
- Sandy’s South Valley Training Company, Inc.
- Stringham lumber in Salt Lake City
- DDMS Day Program in Salt Lake City
- Central Utah Enterprises in Provo
- Midvale Life Skills Vocational Training Center
- Logan’s Cash Employment and Training Center
- Utah State Development Center in American Fork
Bowman said she has mixed feelings about 14(c) contracts. He said he believes people often benefit greatly from routines. On the one hand, she said, “I wish they were paid more.”
Bowman isn’t the only one concerned about the 14(c) deal. The Transformation into Competitive Employment Act was introduced to Congress in January 2019, allowing employers using 14(c) contracts to “transform their business and program models so that individuals with disabilities can participate in competitive It aims to “help transition into employment and help phase out use”. of such special certificates and for other purposes. ”
However, no action has been taken since the bill was referred to the House Education and Labor Committee after it was introduced.
According to Cripps, 14(c) contracts have their roots in initiatives in the 1930s aimed at welcoming people with disabilities into the workplace and developing their skill sets.
“I think the first target probably wasn’t terrible,” he said. “But that was also almost 100 years ago, and I think where we are now is very different from how people with disabilities see it.”
According to Cripps, under a 14(c) contract, an employee’s wages depend on how effectively a person without disabilities can perform their job tasks and how effectively a person with a disability performs their work. It is said that it will be determined by a productivity study that compares
The wages, he said, vary from $5 an hour to a penny a dollar.
“The problem with this is that we see a lot of work in places called sheltered workshops, like segregated environments where only people with disabilities work,” he said. I mean, these aren’t even real jobs… Honestly,[the wages]always feel very good to me.”
However, he noted that for some people with disabilities, income over a certain amount may make them ineligible for the benefits they need.
Cripps said most of the places in Utah using 14(c) contracts are businesses that serve people with disabilities. But as far as she knows, in theory any company can take her 14(c) deal.
He said 14(c) contracts may give some people the dignity of work, but they do not give people the dignity of equal pay.
“It doesn’t feel like dignity to me,” he said.
“They do real work”
However, some families of people with disabilities find 14(c) contracts to be positive and an important part of their loved ones’ lives.
Sandy resident Anita Bennett said her daughter, Emily, has Down syndrome, autism and is non-verbal. She also has her sensory deficit, wears braces for her weak knees, and is unable to perceive anything coming towards her from her right side due to her stroke.
According to Bennett, Emily works two days a week at the South Valley Training Company for a total of about eight hours, doing tasks such as packaging products and assembling blood bags for the ARUP lab.
“They have real work to do. Someone has to do this,” Bennett said.
She said Emily’s wages depended on how much work she could get done.
According to Bennett, 14(c) contract work isn’t just about payment, it’s about habilitation, a process aimed at enabling people with disabilities to achieve or improve everyday life skills.
She also said that if someone feels they have not been fairly compensated under their 14(c) contract, they have a go-to system to address their concerns.
According to Bennett, these jobs provide occupations for people who might otherwise have no jobs at all.
“[People with disabilities]deserve to make money[as much as able-bodied people]if it makes sense,” she said. “Business has an end result. My daughter. couldn’t produce to a level where it made sense to hire her (at full wage), but there are plenty of people who can.”