A Brave New Year

Ending Subminimum Wages at NW Works

By Debera Taylor, CEO of NW Works

As we begin a new year, we are entering a new era at NW Works. Since our organization’s formation in 1970, our focus has been on employment. We believe heavily in the truth behind “Empowerment Through Employment”, for the financial independence, social cohesion, and personal purpose it brings to our clients. Upon joining the company in 2019, I have discussed at length exiting 14c, the certificate under the Department of Labor, which allows employers to pay individuals with disabilities subminimum wages. Two years later, the time has come for us to take the next step in this process.

Advocates will say that the certificate allows people with disabilities opportunities to work where they would not have had them before. The move was perhaps a well-intentioned one by legislators, established in 1938 when President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act into law, to protect people with disabilities from employment discrimination. But what we know today is that the model of what has been referred to as a “sheltered workshop” is out-of-touch with what could be considered by some to be therapeutic for adults with disabilities. 

This understanding is why we have shifted over the years to move toward other options of employment, including individual supported employment and group supported employment opportunities in the broader community. But this year, we are resolved to end all subminimum wage work at our facility. 

What comes next? A mix of opportunities, from higher paying in-house work to customized employment, such as our recent successful wreath auction. It also means finding more partners in community-based employment, such as individual placements and enclaves. There may be some need to subsidize wages through other funding sources as well. All options are on the table as we move forward into a new era; it will likely be a combination of avenues that bring us to the future of NW Works. We invite current and new business partners along with stakeholders to join us as we enter the next phase of our organization’s history and consider supporting our mission as they work to hire and fill positions in their businesses. Together, we will build a more equitable future. 

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