Sunday, February 2, 2014

Disabled Workers of the World, Unite!

 *Updated below.

If you're a typical able-bodied McWorker, you're probably struggling to survive  on a minimum wage of $7 or $8. If you're among the lucky handful of able-bodied McWorkers just now entering the McWorkforce of a federal contractor, President Obama has benevolently decreed that your pay must start at $10.10 an hour. Because it's the right thing to do, because it's the all-American thing to do. Because Ten-Ten is easy to remember, and because it's a perfect Democratic campaign slogan. (When is the Ten? Ten, Ten, Say It Again! GOP Pays No AtTENtion!)

If, however, you are a disabled McWorker enrolled in a public-private federal "sheltered workshop" program, you will not get a raise. You won't even get minimum wage. That is because disabled people have long been legally subjected to something called "sub-minimum wage."  When it comes to making laws for the remuneration of labor, the government has conveniently lumped people with Autism, Down Syndrome, vision impairment, PTSD and other conditions into the same category as prisoners.

Barack Obama, newly self-cast as champion of the working stiff, is willfully discriminating against disabled people, who are three times as likely to live in poverty as a person who is not disabled. So much for his spiel about it not being about "who you are, where you were born, and where you come from." If you're disabled, you apparently don't qualify to be part of his vaunted middle-class dream. You're too impaired to climb up that Ladder of Opportunity. You are separate, and you are unequal.

There has been an immediate uproar. Workers are not silently accepting being scratched out by Obama's magical executive pen. They and their advocates are pushing back against their segregation, big-time. From Disability Scoop:
It’s unclear how many people earn less than minimum wage as employees of federal contractors, but the AbilityOne Program, which facilitates federal contracts for employers of those with disabilities, says that nearly 50,000 people with disabilities were employed through its programs in 2012, many of whom are believed to be working for subminimum wage.
In a call this week with U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Vice President Joe Biden, disability advocates say they were told that the executive order would not alter the ability of approved federal contractors to continue paying people with disabilities less than minimum wage, though such workers could see a slight uptick in pay. That’s because sub-minimum wage is often calculated as a percentage of the pay that a typical worker would earn for the same job.
Now disability groups are uniting to ask Obama to reconsider.“This may mean that a worker receiving pennies an hour today may receive a dime as a result of the executive order. Surely we can do better than this,” wrote Jeff Rosen, chairperson of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency tasked with advising Congress and the president on disability issues, in a letter to Perez and Obama.Meanwhile, a separate letter to the administration organized by the Collaboration to Promote Self Determination has support from the Autism Society, the National Down Syndrome Congress, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and TASH, among others.
The White House, despite Obama's  recent boast that he'd make this a "year of action" and bypass Congress to help regular people, wasted no time announcing that Obama would indeed defer to Congress on the possible scrapping of the discriminatory sub-minimum wage for one "irregular" segment of the population. 

So what gives? Follow the money. The AbilityOne program reports annual profit increases of more than 6% to go along with its procurement of an ever-increasing number of disabled workers. So what a great way for the captains of industry to both brag about "hiring the handicapped" and save big-time on their labor costs! The United States Military Academy at West Point, for example, was able to get rid of its entire well-paid unionized janitorial staff simply by subcontracting with a local private social services agency offering up its clients up for a lot less money.... and, of course, no collective bargaining.

Elsewhere, disabled people provided by AbilityOne manufacture military uniforms, launder military uniforms, clean military equipment, sort military mail, manufacture military pens, package military food, and wash military dishes.... all for a salary as low as $3.25 an hour, after the "procurer" gets his own generous cut, of course.

You really think Free Marketeer Obama is going to shut down these plantations without a fight?

It's not only disabled workers being abused under the current system. It's the very same small business owners and manufacturers whom the president so loves to praise during his non-stop propaganda tour of America's factories. They're being squeezed out of government contracts because they're not allowed to pay their own workers sub-minimum wage.

One private uniform manufacturing plant in Alabama was forced to shut its doors in 2012 because it couldn't keep up with the AbilityOne competition, putting 175 people out of work. And as is the case with most neoliberal public-private contract schemes, it's the taxpayers as well as the exploited workers who end up paying more after the bidding-immune contractors rake in all the profits. The materials used are often shoddy. Corners are often cut. From Bloomberg News:
The (Defense Logistics) agency paid as much as 17 percent more for AbilityOne- manufactured uniforms compared with those made by large commercial businesses, according to a Bloomberg analysis of $2.23 billion in uniform spending by the agency during the past decade.
For example, the data provided by the agency showed it paid an average price of $33.98 for women’s Air Force coats, 17 percent more than the average price of $29.14 charged by large companies. AbilityOne contractors sold the agency Army combat coats at an average premium of 4.6 percent, for $34.67 per coat compared with $33.13.
Of course, AbilityOne sounds generous when compared to the Goodwill Industries plantation. There, workers are paid as little as 22 cents an hour, while the CEO is rewarded with almost $1 million in salary and compensation.

Nationwide, according to labor journalist Mike Elk, nearly 420,000 disabled people are employed in so-called 14(C) programs exempt from labor laws enacted in the 1930s, and coordinated by state and local governments. It is because they are deemed "training programs" that some of the employers can game the system, getting away with paying more or less permanent employees mere pennies per hour:
As Working In These Times reported last March, deep divisions remain within the disability community and even among top Congressional Democrats over whether disabled workers employed in 14(c) programs should be paid below the minimum wage. Some disability advocates—led by ACCSES, which represents employers of disabled workers under the 14(c) programs—claim that these programs provide valuable training to help transition people with disabilities into jobs, and that a minimum wage requirement would make that mission impossible.
Other advocates, however, say that the programs don’t provide meaningful training and rarely lead to outside jobs.  A 2001 study by the federal General Accountability Office (GAO) found that only 5 percent of workers employed in 14(c)-sheltered workplace programs left to take regular “integrated employment” jobs. These critics say the programs contribute to the well-documented cycle of poverty for those with disabilities: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a person with a disability is three times as likely to live in poverty as a person without a disability.
On Thursday, the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal advisory board, issued a statement on Thursday afternoon blasting the Obama administration’s decision to exempt workers with disabilities from the minimum-wage increase.
The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network has already called the president out on his specious claim that he doesn't have the authority to scrap the sub-minimum wage. Within 48 hours of his State of the Union speech, they thoughtfully provided the Legal Scholar-in-Chief with a legal memo refuting his reasoning.

Nothing is preventing Barack Obama from using his pen to give every disabled federal contract worker $10.10 an hour. Nothing, perhaps, except his own sworn allegiance to the military-industrial complex and the miracle of unfettered free market capitalism.

*Update 2/7: Mike Elk reports that the Department of Labor is suddenly rethinking the Administration's position on wages for disabled federal contractors, now that the ACLU is also lending its heft to the fight. 


annenigma said...

You'd think that Emperor Obama, who has tragically produced so many physically and mentally disabled people (Americans and otherwise) would be more sympathetic, but he's not. Something is deeply and seriously wrong with him. He is morally disabled. No that's not quite right - he's morally defective. No, that's not it either. He's simply evil. The fact that he hides behind the Christian and Democratic labels makes him more so.

I tuned in to the Super Bowl today just to hear Renee Fleming sing the National Anthem. I couldn't believe what I saw and heard. Before she sang, there was a long shameless promotion of the military featuring Michelle Obama and 'Doctor' Jill Biden featuring various individuals quoting select portions of the Declaration of Independence with the focus on the military. There were endless photos of jets and troops and the whole military stage set. At the end of this long military propaganda piece, there was a reference to a government program and website: ''.

Then to sicken me further, poor Renee Fleming was singing the National Anthem when all of a sudden she was drowned out by a 32-member military chorus/choir, then a deafening flyover by a bunch of military jets and blackhawk helicopters. The television audience could still hear her but I doubt the people in the stadium did, being drowned out as she was by the roar of the display of military might.

Our national identity is shamelessly promoted by the Obama regime as military from beginning to end, even though our founders objected to the government even keeping a standing army. It looks like the Emperor's propaganda machine is just getting revved up. I advise any of you out there with children to tell them to get the hell out of this country as soon as they can unless they want to end up disabled, otherwise known as collateral damage or 'blowback'.

I'm certain that Renee Fleming deeply regrets her role in today's glorification of the Empire. It was pure propaganda for the Military-Industrial Complex, the most blatant example I have ever seen in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

So, ann, I guess you would prefer Romney?

(I DO agree about the dopey "Dr" Thing JB seems to feel the need to remind us of on a regular basis.)

brainmatters said...

I think I messed up. I'll post this the right way so you'll have a "name"

Will said...


Couldn't agree with you more. By the way, did you happen to see the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial where Bob Dylan asks the asinine question "Is there anything more American than America?" I think I died a little on the inside after that one. We are so doomed.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

First, wonderful essay, Karen. I am ashamed to say I had no idea that disabled workers were paid so much less. I knew there were government programs that promoted the hiring of disabled workers but I assumed either they were paid fairly outright or the government chipped in to make up a complete and fair wage. Thank you for enlightening me - although it is one more thing to feel angry about when it comes to the government.

Second, I absolutely love Annenigma's description of Obama as "morally defective." Quite the shocking display of military might - doesn't this glorification of the military ring some bells of familiarity? Or are Americans so devoid of a good education in history?

I am so sick of the completely unoriginal argument that Obama is the Lesser of Two Evils and that Romney would be worse. I think it goes to show that even the Obama camp can't come up with any defense of the guy anymore.

For those out there (yes, this is for Anonymous and his/her like-minded brethren)who haven't read the great discussion on this very issue in the Black Agenda Report. Read Margaret Kimberly,Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon's articles on how Obama is actually the greater of two evils. (h/t to Kat for turning a lot of us onto the BAR).

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

So glad Anon sent me looking at the Black Agenda Report. I found a great little article on the TransPacific Partnership. For anyone who is interested, here is the link:

Karen Garcia said...

I watched part of the SB just to check out the commercials. Half of them were directed at filthy rich people (Maserati)and the half that were directed at everybody else urged us to drink a lot of soda and feel the joy of globalization while vicariously blowing each other up via Hollywood blockbusters.

It was definitely a co-production of the Psy-Ops Pentagon-Entertainment Complex. Michelle's disgusting spiel, for example, was sponsored by Joining Forces, a propaganda tool financed by defense contractors. Even the halftime show featured poignant clips by The Troops, over there keeping us safe so we could enjoy the televised display of military might.

Oh, on Anonymous's post... I normally delete messages from trolls, but did not this time because Valerie's response to It was so excellent.

On the sub-minimum wage for disabled people -- haven't seen any msm outlets pick up this story yet. It is just one more disgusting example of the crushing of labor in this country. Glad to see the advocacy groups pushing back. And as to Anne's point, yes, the "disabled" now include the so-called Wounded Warriors coming home to those wonderful sub-minimum jobs when the standing ovations from Michelle and the congressional millionaires are but a dim memory.

annenigma said...


I read an interview with Bob Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, a couple of years ago where he admitted disgust over the support for his songs because he didn't buy into the message of them at all. He admitted he wrote them simply to make money, opportunistically taking advantage of the cultural climate of the times to make money. The time$ they aren't a'changin' for Bob Zimmerman. Ka-ching!


YES, I would definitely prefer Romney. We ended up with Republican policies anyway, if not WORSE, but we aren't galvanized in opposition because that lying, phony, moral cretin Obama is supposedly 'one of us'.

Obama is the best Republican money can buy - and did. If I have to be stuck with one, I want a real one whose policies we can openly oppose. Take the TPP as just one grievous example of Obamanomics. No Republican in Congress is twisting his arm for that betrayal. We would have a huge powerful movement by now if Romney had been elected and tried to pull that off.

At least Romney made his money openly and 'honestly', the good old-fashioned capitalistic American way - cannibalizing struggling companies. He also came onto the scene already accomplished and successful with a solid identity, not as a half-term U.S. Senator with brief stint (voting 'present') as Illinois State Senator. Romney did not need to find himself by adorning himself with the trappings of Emperor President Major-General Obama.

Obama is cannibalizing our entire country and turning it into a War Machine. As a successful businessman, Romney would have realized the value of business diversification instead of the one-trick War Horse that Obama is riding. For Obama, that War Horse doesn't just elevate his ego and power, it pays his way. Obama is doing everything he can, as fast as he can, to turn plowshares into swords and assert and exercise executive powers that we would be screaming about in the streets about if it was done by a Republican. Bush and Cheney were amateurs compared to the Obama regime.

Remember, a majority of Americans actually elected a Democrat who sounded and promised to be progressive. Now he won't even use the word 'Poor', only 'Middle Class'. We now find ourselves with a sleek, slick, smiling, charismatic, militarized and fascist version of a Richard M. Nixon. You can't blame that on an intransigent Republican Congress.

Obama is who he wants to be - a lying, phony, moral cretin who is tearing apart our Constitution. His type, no matter the Party, has no place in our Democracy. We are one major terrorist attack from Herr Obama ruling over us with an iron fist in his velvet glove because he has already personally signed the entire 'legal' framework into place. Worst of these are his secret Executive Orders and Presidential Findings (Kill Orders). He prefers and relishes a hands-on execution of his executive powers. As Valerie, said, we know the type from History.

Kat said...

Will -- I died inside too. Not that I had any illusions about Dylan, but the statement was so inane. America? What are we talking about here? Canada? Argentina? Venezuela? (well, not Venezuela. We know that.)
Anyway, the Superbowl was very pro government because we all know the sole function of government is to fund and to salute our military.

Pearl said...

A while back I wrote a comment stating that it would have been more productive to have had Romney win which might have resulted in an honest opposition, willing to fight for a true liberal agenda. Now the comments from the soft left continue to rage
against the Republicans while making excuses for Obama's agenda (are you listening Dr. Krugman?).

Great comments on Sardonicky these days. Much appreciated and saves me
having to send in my thoughts as you are all articulating them so well. I also feel, judging from all the progressive information coming into my computer, that there is more and more real dissension in the ranks which is
spreading. The internet is a dangerous place for coverups like Christie and the GW bridge these days.

And thanks Annenigma for clueing me in to the Popular resistance website which I joined and they had a full report about the military maneuvers at
the Super Bowl. Yes, the U.S. is now officially the bully of the world. I am so glad I don't pay taxes anymore in the U.S. which go mostly to the Pentagon, et al. There is some waste here in Canada as well but not to this
extent and we manage to have enough money to cover pretty decent medical care for everyone. As to the pipeline drama, they keep reporting that Canada
is ready to sign on the dotted line, not mentioning the opposition involved and that it is the present Conservative Party that is pushing for this

annenigma said...

@Will can't be viewed. It now says:

"Bob Dylan Chrysler Super..." The YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement.

Will said...


Yep, I just tried the link a few minutes ago & got the same message. No problem, though: A simple google/YouTube search will hook you up with other video links that do work (for now), various articles on whether Dylan's a sellout, Twitter's mostly negative reaction to the ad, etc. Fun stuff!

annenigma said...

This is an excerpt from an article in the Guardian from September 2013 titled 'The Silent Military Coup That Took Over Washington' by John Pilger which is pertinent to the topic of disability and the war culture. I particularly appreciate his identification of Obama's singular achievement.

"Under the 'weak' Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.

The historian Norman Pollack calls this 'liberal fascism': 'For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.' Every Tuesday the 'humanitarian' Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that 'bugsplat' people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west's comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama's singular achievement."

Kat said...

Pearl-- Krugman (who I half read. He is a boring writer.)seems to be worse lately as far as the cheerleading goes.
I did leave a comment in response to this statement from a column last week
"Now, just to be clear, the very rich, and those on Wall Street in particular, are in fact doing worse under Mr. Obama than they would have if Mitt Romney had won in 2012."
He doesn't say anything about 2008. That was the real failed opportunity. Obama did serve the plutocrats well in that time of real rage against the banks. Didn't he even admit to it?

Will said...


I'm *still* flabbergasted by the inanity of Dylan's opening line of the commercial. I actually had a hard time picking what adjective to go with in my post. I considered inane, but eventually settled on asinine. (My mistake. In hindsight, I like your word so much better!) Others in the running: ridiculous, ludicrous, absurd, nonsensical, fatuous, and even the old standby, silly!

Kat said...

Do you think they rejected "Is there anything more car-like than a car?" before going with that whole American thing?

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@annenigma, @Will, @Kat, (and @All):

@annenigma, you said "The time$ they aren't a'changin' for Bob Zimmerman. Ka-ching!".

Very true. Alternatively, one could say: You don't need a weatherman to know which way the Zimmerman blows!

And I noticed that as they attempted to make the potential auto buyer feel all warm and fuzzy towards Chrysler and the American auto worker, in the willful ignorance/amnesia that characterizes modern commerce and the American public, not a hint of the fact that Chrysler is now owned by Fiat.

Inane and asinine are just the beginning of what could be leveled at that commercial, and him.

annenigma said...

That most American thingy of all, America, has 7 companies listed in the top 10 arms producers in the world, and 14 companies in the top 20.

Is there anything more American than war, military, guns, and killing? It sure isn't cars!. Everyone makes cars, but no one makes war like Amerika.

As a unintended byproduct, we are also the largest producer of disabled veterans in the world. They can't die nearly as easily on the battlefield anymore, thanks to companies like Sikorsky scooping up their mangled bodies in record time to save their lives, if not their minds. Now they die at home of suicide.

Here's the complete top 100 list from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute for 2012 based on arms sales, total sales, and total profit (excluding China), which provide for military purposes only, not civilian. I'm sure you'll recognize some familiar names.

fahrenheit451 said...

Let's look at the logic underlying this dual layer payment system, where disabled people get far less than someone who is not, doing the same job. Isn't the rationale that were it not for the vastly reduced pay scale, the disabled would have no job at all? But isn't it a fact that if they are doing it, making uniforms which past muster, if you will forgive me, then why should they be set apart: they deserve the national minimum wage and the nation's workers as a whole deserve one of between 15-21 per hour.

You can say this is a special case, but the broader phenomenon applies to our growing categories of implicit citizenship types: first class, with great access if you are a businessperson, an entrepreneur; second class if you are just a worker, with limited impact if not access to the inners of the political system...ditto for categories of immigrants and method of entry, despite the intimate connection between getting here and the low wage needs of certain businesses...much broader than we think...and then the disabled, who if they can perform the task, should not have a "special" pay category at all...

Seems like in the long history of republics, ours, Florence, Rome, Greece, it is always a dynamic to keep one's eyes on: who has full citizenship rights and then all the different categories with less than full rights...including for much of the 18th and 19th century...who had the most obvious missing one, the right to vote.

I look around at the economic world today, here, emerging markets, even the most talked about ones, and the story of human progress is going to be linked to expanding the definition of full rights...thanks FDR for advancing that Second Bill of Rights in 1944, the very first of which was a right to a decent paying job...with no asterisks!

Kat said...

Yes, back to the issue at hand. I actually have a family member (by marriage) in a group home. he is both mentally and physically disabled, but the physical disabilities are worse. He has to go to the workshop during the day. I think they package things. I cannot see that it would be economically feasible for them to pay him minimum wage-- and anyway, he doesn't have to partake in the work if he does not want to. So, I think the organization is mostly making money from the service, rather than cheap labor in his instance (if he and his housemates are representative of the labor). But, I question why does he have to go at all. Why do the group home residents have to get up at 5 in the morning and carted off to the workshop? I know he would rather get up later (probably much later). he doesn't need the income. He has SS and medicare waivers. What's with the fetishization of work? Is it so bad that he'd rather stay at home and watch some game shows?

Noodge said...

"Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth."

Rex Stout

Has a poor person ever given a handicapped person a job? They should be grateful for what they get. Back in the old days they never would have made it out of infancy.


The callousness and sheer indifference to other people's suffering among the ruling class is enough to make one physically ill. How long can this go on before something snaps?

Zee said...

Thoughts on a number of topics:


Thank you for a very informative—if also very depressing—essay on how this country treats its disabled. As fahrenheit451 says, if they do a job that “passes muster,” they should be paid at least the minimum wage.

Funny how all these “public-private partnerships,” from Solyndra to AbilityOne, only really seem to benefit the already-well-connected. Time to put an end to this crap.

@annenigma, @Karen, @Will & @Pearl--

As is my custom, I ignored the Super Bowl just as I ignore all professional and collegiate sports. Un-American of me, I know. Four years of sadistic high school Phys Ed teachers—who seemed to enjoy seeing us nerdy types regularly knocked on our butts by the bigger and stronger kids—burned any interest in “sports” out of me long ago. However, I think I've lived to see my revenge: I'm sure that I wound up earning more—and retiring earlier than—the bunch of 'em.

I'm glad that I missed the militarism on display at the event. I have an enormous amount of respect for those who put on the nation's uniform because—as a retired Air Force colonel friend/colleague of mine once put it—they risk being handed a rifle and asked to earn their pay and, maybe, give their all some day. Still, like the rest of you Sardonickistas, I am increasingly concerned with our society's growing fascination with our nation's military prowess.

From Sean Hannity's “theme song” for his radio show, with its words “We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way,” to the totally-out-of-place Super Bowl “event” (which calls to mind the old May Day parades of the Soviet Union, with all its troops, tanks and mobile missile launchers) it is extremely depressing: such jingoistic displays seem to me to reflect a nation that sees—and fears—its own imminent decline.

@annenigma, @Will, @Kat and @Fred--

Never was a Dylan fan. I thought his voice was poor, his guitar playing mediocre and his songs pretentious without, mostly, ever being any real fun at all. Nice to see that he, too, has his price tag, laughably peddling an “American” product that turns out to be—as Fred points out—no longer even “American” any more.

Interesting to learn that he openly admits to having been an opportunist, writing his songs to make money by pandering to the social conditions of the time.

Explains his temporary conversion to Christianity in the '70s.


I don't know why your disabled relative and his fellow “group home” residents are forced to go off to work on a daily basis. I'm not trying to make excuses for the home's management, but is it possible that working together somehow gives them a sense of unity of purpose and focuses their minds? Friends of Mrs. Zee and I have a son who is a high-functioning autistic person with an uncanny “feel” for numbers. He earns a living wage and lives independently in Boston. His work is a tremendous source of pride to him. Just a thought.

Kat said...

In short- no.
The work is boring, and as I said he does not like to get up that early.
His fellow residents are multi disabled, but none have Down's syndrome. I suppose the theory is that it gives him a sense of purpose, but I don't see it.
They go because the group homes don't have to be staffed during the hours that residents are at the workshop.

annenigma said...

Karen's got a great comment, a NYT Pick, to this article: