An Open Takedown of MARO’s Talking Points on Subminimum Wages

The Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations (MARO) submitted testimony to the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council on April 1, 2016. We must correct untrue and ableist statements made by MARO Executive Director Todd Culver, who wields a great deal of influence over the lives of Michiganders with disabilities by publicly representing the interests of the businesses exploiting us and by actively lobbying in support of sheltered work and subminimum wages.

Let’s unpack!

MARO Statement: In a manufacturing environment, when a productivity level is not consistent with assigned unit labor costs, it is simply not sustainable as a business practice – this is true for workers with and without disabilities.

Reality Check: Yes, the businesses you represent employ a model that relies on exploitation of the disability community and it is not sustainable. Why is that the disability community’s problem? MARO members have made themselves filthy rich off the backs of our people. We will not put our civil rights on hold for your continued enrichment at our expense. 

MARO Statement: We must also work toward a rate structure that acknowledges that the supports required to achieve the desired outcome of competitive integrated employment will be more intensive, and more expensive, than currently designed. I am hopeful that we will continue to allocate resources in pursuit of our shared objectives, rather than focusing energy on eliminating choices from the menu of employment options available to people with disabilities in Michigan. The more intensive our focus on the desired outcome, the more likely we are to achieve success.

Reality Check: We are going to talk about eliminating the disgusting practice of paying subminimum wage to people with disabilities – a practice the majority of MARO’s members are engaged in. You don’t get to appropriate the voice of the disability community, tell us what’s best for us, continue exploiting us, and then demand more money. Our civil rights don’t depend on expanded funding for the businesses exploiting us.

MARO Statement: Simply eliminating the option of maintaining a 14(c) certificate, without consideration for the supports necessary to ensure the success of individuals with the most significant disabilities, could actually reduce opportunities to work. And with those lost opportunities, the intangible benefits of purpose, dignity, self-esteem, and a sense of accomplishment and pride could be lost as well.

Reality Check: So not only are people with significant disabilities forced to work for subminimum wages while non-profit executives walk away with obscene salaries – we’re also expected to be thankful for the opportunity? Millions of taxpayer dollars are supporting the outdated and discriminatory practices your members are engaged in. Take a moment and think what could be done with all of that money. It defies common sense to argue that millions of taxpayer dollars should be spent keeping people with disabilities isolated, segregated, disenfranchised, and financially abused at the businesses you represent. It is overwhelmingly clear that our “dignity” is not their motivating factor.

MARO Statement: MARO supports initiatives to enhance meaningful, informed choice for individuals with the most significant disabilities, including increased opportunities to work in competitive integrated employment (at or above the minimum or prevailing wage) and self-employment. We fully support the recent Executive Order on Employment First. We believe in the capability of every person, equal access, and innovation.

Todd Culver stands next to Llieutenant Governor Callet at Employment First Executive Order Signing with two othersReality Check: Your actions tell a different story. We know you tampered with the Employment First Executive Order, rendering it toothless. We know what you mean when you use the word choice: the choice to be exploited. You know that the majority of employees with significant disabilities have had their right to make their own decisions revoked through Michigan’s abusive guardianship process, yet you continue to describe their participation in subminimum wage employment as a choice. Do the non-disabled people working at MARO’s member organizations have the “choice” to work for subminimum wages? No. That would be wrong for obvious reasons. Segregating people and paying them less than their peers based solely on disability is the definition of ableism.

MARO Statement: Relative to employment service options, 55% of our members hold a 14(c) certificate, authorizing payment of special minimum wages; 45% of our members do not hold a 14(c) certificate. With respect for this diversity, MARO does not actively lobby In support of “subminimum” wages. We do feel that any movement to eliminate or phase out 14 (c) should not advance without careful consideration of the consequences of eliminating this employment option for people with disabilities.

Reality Check: You submitted this testimony, which urged a Governor-appointed Council to avoid taking a position against subminimum wages. Lobbying in support of subminimum wages is literally what you’re doing right now. With regard to MARO’s membership, the 45% of your members that do not hold a 14c certificate is comprised of Michigan’s Centers for Independent Living, which have absolutely no business supporting sheltered work.

Mr. Culver: You’re not fooling anyone. Not anymore. 

MARO Testimony on Subminimum Wages

To: Michigan Development Disabilities Council
From: Todd Culver: Executive Director, Michigan Association of Rehabilitation Organizations (MARO)

April 1, 2016

It has come to my attention that the DD Council will allocate time during its April 5 meeting to discussion of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards act, and has encouraged public comment from interested parties. As such, I respectfully request that the Council will take the following into consideration:

I represent MARO, the statewide network of organizations providing employment and other support services on behalf of individuals with disabilities and other barriers to community access in Michigan. Relative to employment service options, 55% of our members hold a 14(c) certificate, authorizing payment of special minimum wages; 45% of our members do not hold a 14(c) certificate. With respect for this diversity, MARO does not actively lobby In support of “subminimum” wages.

We do feel that any movement to eliminate or phase out 14 (c) should not advance without careful consideration of the consequences of eliminating this employment option for people with disabilities. The reason that a number of our member organizations choose to hold a 14(c) certificate authorizing payment of special minimum wages, commensurate with productivity, is the recognition that by doing so, they can create employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities -jobs that without this provision in the law would not otherwise currently exist.

In a manufacturing environment, when a productivity level is not consistent with assigned unit labor costs, it is simply not sustainable as a business practice -this is true for workers with and without disabilities. This provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act authorizes businesses that strive to employ people with disabilities to provide an option for this type of employment – it is simply a choice among a menu of options. Arbitrary elimination of this choice could result in the unintended consequence of eliminating employment options within the current landscape – instead, I encourage consideration of a shift in focus, toward improving the supports and services necessary to achieve higher earning capacity and sustainable business practices for all.

Some organizations in Michigan that have chosen not to renew their 14(c) certificate are fortunate enough to have the financial resources to subsidize workers who are not meeting productivity rates; we are supportive of those organizations that have navigated this transition – but this is not applicable to all.  For businesses where these conditions do not exist, simply eliminating the option of maintaining a 14(c) certificate, without consideration for the supports necessary to ensure the success of individuals with the most significant disabilities, could actually reduce opportunities to work. And with those lost opportunities, the intangible benefits of purpose, dignity, self-esteem, and a sense of accomplishment and pride could be lost as well.

MARO supports initiatives to enhance meaningful, informed choice for individuals with the most significant disabilities, including increased opportunities to work in competitive integrated employment (at or above the minimum or prevailing wage) and self-employment. We fully support the recent Executive Order on Employment First. We believe in the capability of every person, equal access, and innovation.

As an association, we also recognize that many community jobs are no longer industrially based and do not depend on production rates in the manner that industrial jobs do; we are promoting best practices in the field of job development and job coaching, in pursuit of competitive employment outcomes; and we are actively engaged in programming to develop a stronger community of practice in the field of benefits coordination and counseling – as fear of losing benefits remains among the greatest disincentives to employment success. We must also work toward a rate structure that acknowledges that the supports required to achieve the desired outcome of competitive integrated employment will be more intensive, and more expensive, than currently designed. We promote business practices that result in recognized credentials of service quality. And all these things must align to effect continuous improvement, and meaningful systems change.

MARO has appreciated its partnership with the DD Council through the Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program, the technical assistance grant sponsored by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. This project has allocated resources to pursue an increased number of competitive integrate employment outcomes – an objective embraced by MARO. I am hopeful that we will continue to allocate resources in pursuit of our shared objectives, rather than focusing energy on eliminating choices from the menu of employment options available to people with disabilities in Michigan. The more intensive our focus on the desired outcome, the more likely we are to achieve success.

Thank you for your consideration,

Todd Culver
Executive Director
MARO

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One thought on “An Open Takedown of MARO’s Talking Points on Subminimum Wages

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

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