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Bark’s Bytes #27 | Tell the Whole Story


I am not an economist, labor expert, or politician so I am NOT going to weigh-in on the merits or concerns with raising the Minnesota minimum wage for large employers to $9.50 an hour. I am pleased to report that all of our employees are paid more than $9.50 an hour and the average wage for direct care staff is above $14 an hour. As a nonprofit we have spent considerable time developing a compensation plan, participating in salary surveys every two years, and evaluating data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We understand that a basic quality of life in Minnesota requires an income above the minimum wage and have used the information found on the Jobs Now Coalition website ( in our compensation plan.

In an about face, the Obama administration has now decided that the federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour DOES apply to those workers with disabilities employed under service or concession contracts with the government. As Michelle Diament of DisabilityScoop (, reports. “We applaud the administration for hearing the voices of the disability community and including disabled workers in the new minimum wage protections for contractors,” said Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, one of 25 groups that signed a letter from the Collaboration to Promote Self Determination urging the White House to include workers with disabilities. To be clear these zealots are NOT part of our disability community and their intent is very clear in the following quote, “We hope to work with them going forward to convince Congress to repeal Section 14(c) for all disabled workers,” Ne’eman said. “Equal rights should apply to everyone — President Obama and (Secretary of Labor Tom Perez) helped us take a significant step forward towards realizing that vision today.” Unfortunately, Ne’eman chooses to further inflame the discussion by suggesting it is an “equal rights” issue when it is truly an economic issue.

I’ve written about commensurate wage on five separate occasions (Bytes 1, 4, 14, 18, & 19) and won’t repeat myself other than to provide the following brief description of the commensurate wage certificate that is permitted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to pay people with disabilities a wage based on their individual productivity. To be factual, providers are NOT paying sub-minimum wages to anyone and opponents choose to use this term because it sounds more negative. Providers with an FLSA 14(c) commensurate wage certificate are paying special minimum wages that are rigorously monitored, subject to renewal procedures, and enforced by the DOL. Calculating a special minimum wage requires the provider to establish the local market wage, not the minimum wage, and the output of a worker who is non-disabled to determine the “unit rate” for the work to be completed. The provider must then track the number of units the worker who is disabled produces and multiple this by the rate to determine each individual’s earnings. Everyday workers who are disabled are paid more than the minimum wage because they produce units at a rate exceeding the standard. And what the zealots don’t tell you is that any increase in the minimum wage will likely increase all prevailing wages resulting in a commensurate increase to workers with disabilities. Instead they select the quotes that best support their rhetoric to repeal the commensurate wage regulations.

What they also don’t tell anyone is the devastating impact getting rid of commensurate wage practices will have on those with disabilities that have limited work options. The reality is the “market” is not going to pay the same wage for workers with disabilities to produce less than workers without disabilities; and if the commensurate wage regulations are repealed people with disabilities are going to have an equal right to sit at home and not earning any wage. As a provider we are only able to secure contracts with businesses that offer meaningful work to clients because the commensurate wage certificate permits us to offer labor costs that match the market. To expect businesses to pay more than “market value” for a unit is asking the private sector to subsidize the human service system and this added cost would have to be passed onto the consumer inflating the cost of living and essentially become a hidden tax. Finally, let’s talk about choices for workers who are disabled and their families. No one is required to be served by a provider with a commensurate wage certificate. If a person with a disability does not want to be paid a special minimum wage they are free to find a job on their own for a wage they find acceptable.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee passed the Workforce Reinvestment Act (WIA) reauthorization amendment on 7/31/2013 with bipartisan support of 18-3 that updates the commensurate wage regulation. It is time to say enough with the half-truths and distracting rhetoric and send a note to Senators Franken and Klobuchar asking them to ignore these false prophets and support the WIA reauthorization amendment as passed by the HELP committee. The people we serve have been certified as disabled, by law are vulnerable adults, rely on transportation services, require 24-hour support and supervision, and cannot function independently in a business setting or they wouldn’t be in our program. To demand they be placed in a full-time job making at least minimum wage with benefits and only natural supports from the employer is bureaucratic VAPOR (Very Appealing Promises Obfuscating Reality) that is exacerbated by the threat to now eliminate their choice to make meaningful wages through a commensurate wage program.

The zealots, wannabe speakers, and bureaucratic theorists are acting as false prophets in attacking our most important tool in providing meaningful work to the clients in our program. We need to identify these 25 “groups”, cancel our memberships, and publicly criticize their misguided actions. There is no need to destroy an option that permits providers and businesses to offer meaningful work at a fair wage to millions of our citizens with disabilities. If you don’t get engaged who will? Send your letter asking for support of the WIA reauthorization amendment to:

Senator Amy Klobuchar
1200 Washington Avenue South, Room 250
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Senator Al Franken
60 East Plato Boulevard
St. Paul, MN 55107