Michell K. McIntye recently joined the staff of the National Consumers League as the Project Director for NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft. What is wage theft? Wage theft is the term for a complex and growing problem: employers who illegally underpay their workers. This happens not only to low-wage workers, but also to the middle class, especially since the top two types of wage theft are unpaid overtime and employee misclassification. NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft seeks to raise awareness about the nature of wage theft in the United States and strives to educate workers, consumer, governments, and businesses about wage theft issues and its solutions.
By Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft
Wage theft is a growing problem, as evidenced by many recent media stories on the issue. For example, in Ohio, thousands of adults with Down syndrome, autism, and other developmental disabilities are working at jobs that pay less than the minimum wage, with a majority working for less than half of the state minimum of $7.40 an hour. Some earn as little as 40 cents an hour for cleaning hotel rooms, while others sew table linens for a mere 79 cents an hour. A recent exclusive in the Ohio Dispatch brought this glaring injustice to light.
In America, how can anyone pay someone less than a dollar for an hour’s work?
Unfortunately, a little-known provision in the 73-year-old federal wage law allows employers to pay less than minimum wage if adults have disabilities that limit their productivity. The Fair Labor Standards Act was written in 1938, when people’s views of the disabled were limited to institutions and the population was labeled as “idiots,” “imbeciles,” or “morons” based on IQ scores.
But today, when we know and understand more about both worker’s rights and the disabled, how can we let this provision stay on the books?