Unpacking the Employment First Executive Order: Michiganders with Disabilities Condemn Tampering by Subminimum Wage Employers

There’s a big problem with Michigan’s new Executive Order on Employment First. Someone allowed the Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations (MARO) to edit the Employment First principles. Unsurprisingly, they took that opportunity to rewrite the principles to legitimize sheltered, segregated work and subminimum wages – the very practices Employment First was meant to eradicate.

MARO counts on us being unable to understand the jargon they use to exploit our community, so it’s very important that we analyze the language they use to keep us poor and dependent.

Let’s unpack exactly what went wrong when subminimum wage employers were allowed to usurp the voice of the disability community by editing the Employment First principles. 

Graphic: Don’t be fooled! Community Rehabilitation Organization Equals Subminimum Wage EmployerThe first thing you need to know is that “Community Rehabilitation Organization” is a code phrase for subminimum wage employers.

Let’s take a look at Employment First principle 1c: “Employment means a job available in the general workforce and in which the employee is included on the payroll of the business or industry or is a self- employed business owner.”

Now let’s look at the text from the Executive Order:

  • “Employment” means a job available in the general workforce and in which the employee is included on the payroll of the business, industry, community rehabilitation organization or staffing agency, or is a self-employed business owner.

See what happened there? With a quick edit, MARO re-defined sheltered work as legitimate employment. That directly contradicts the Employment First principles, which are intended to eliminate sheltered, segregated employment over time. MARO is using rights-based language to perpetuate and excuse disability-based employment discrimination.

Here’s another example. From the Executive Order:

  • The state of Michigan recognizes intermediate steps and services may be needed to assist persons with disabilities along the path to the optimal outcome or to honor the choices and goals of the individual… “Intermediate steps and services” may include, but are not limited to, facility-based programs, internships, and job training programs.

“Facility-based programs” is a code phrase for Peckham’s garment factories, which segregate and pay subminimum wage to workers with disabilities. Factories like these litter the landscape in Lansing, and they represent exactly the type of practices Employment First is meant to phase  out. Defining “facility-based programs” as a necessary intermediate step solidifies the pipelines of people with disabilities referred to these dead-end “jobs” and exacerbates the problem Employment First was designed to solve.

  • Nothing in this Order should be construed to limit the ability of a person with a disability to select an employment option that they determine to be the best choice for themselves.

No one chooses to be discriminated against. This statement flies in the face of everything the disability community stands for and directly contradicts the Employment First principles.

Finally, the Executive Order appoints Michigan’s State Rehabilitation Council, which is not consumer controlled, to oversee the implementation of the order.

  • Oversight for implementation of this Order shall be placed within the State Rehabilitation Council as established under Executive Order 2012-15…

That raises major red flags for the disability community because consumers here know that our Rehabilitation Council is run by Mitch Tomlinson of Peckham, Inc. (Michigan’s largest and most egregious subminimum wage employer) and MARO, which actively lobbies in support of sheltered work and subminimum wages. We have no confidence that the Rehabilitation Council understands or supports the Employment First principles.


The Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations (MARO) is using Employment First and the Governor’s Office as mechanisms to maintain the status quo. We feel betrayed by this order and question why Michiganders with disabilities were not involved in this process.

While sheltered, segregated work that pays subminimum wages to people with disabilities winds down across the nation, it is ramping up in Michigan. Michigan has one of the highest rates of subminimum wage discrimination, as well as the highest rate of guardianships in the nation. That means that the majority of people placed in segregated, subminimum wage work are not legally recognized as the decision-maker. The “choice” MARO defends is nothing more than a self-serving, intentionally constructed illusion designed to funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to businesses that profit by exploiting people with disabilities.

We reiterate our call for Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living to end support of sheltered, segregated work and subminimum wages by ending membership in MARO. Centers for Independent Living are disability rights organizations. Why they continue to support the businesses that exploit the disability community is absolutely beyond us.

Five Michigan Centers for Independent Living and the Association – which represents all Michigan CILs – are current MARO members.

  • Disability Network/Michigan (Association representing all of Michigan’s CILs)
  • Disability Network West Michigan (Muskegon)
  • Disability Network of Mid-Michigan (Midland)
  • Disability Network of Northern Michigan (Traverse City)
  • Capitol Area CIL (Lansing)
  • Disability Network Wayne County/Detroit

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4 thoughts on “Unpacking the Employment First Executive Order: Michiganders with Disabilities Condemn Tampering by Subminimum Wage Employers

  1. The Executive Order feels like real hatred of people with disabilities. For MARO executives to usurp the voice of disability justice while earning big incomes providing services to the Disabled shows their utter lack of respect for the individuals served. And most regrettably the manipulation of Lt Governor Brian Calley.


  2. Pingback: An Open Takedown of MARO’s Talking Points on Subminimum Wages | Peer Action Alliance

  3. Pingback: MARO Calls for Solution-Focused Agenda: Disability Community Responds | Peer Action Alliance

  4. Pingback: Blending and Braiding: A Scam to Bypass WIOA Regulations | Peer Action Alliance

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