New Hampshire legislature passes bill ending subminimum wages

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Fair Wages

New Hampshire is set to become the first state to ban employers from paying people with disabilities below the minimum wage.

“This legislation will make New Hampshire a leader in rejecting the misconceptions and low expectations that stigmatize workers with disabilities by prohibiting wage discrimination against these workers,”  said Mark A. Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in a news release.

Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standard Standards Act, passed in 1938, allows employers to  receive Special Minimum Wage Certificates, allowing them to employ people with disabilities at wages below the minimum wage.

The provision’s intent was to provide temporary employment for individuals unlikely to otherwise find employment. In reality, 95 percent of these workers never progress out of these employment settings, also called “sheltered workshops.”

S.B. 47 would prevent such employment settings from operating in New Hampshire, regardless of if they have a certificate. The one-page bill “prohibits employers from employing individuals with disabilities at an hourly rate lower than the federal minimum wage except for practical experience or training programs and family businesses.”

The New Hampshire House of Representatives unanimously passed the bill April 15. The state Senate unanimously passed the bill March 5.

Governor Maggie Hassan is expected to sign the bill.

For many people with disabilities, the vote reflects a shift away from previous paternalistic attitudes toward the ability of people with disabilities to participate in the workforce.

“They took a philosophy that people with disabilities really couldn’t work, that the best they could do would be menial jobs, and that society and employers were really helping them by giving them anything to do,” Chris Rueggeberg, policy director of the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities, told New Hampshire Public Radio.

The legislation comes a year after President Obama signed an executive order banning federal contractors from employing people with disabilities at subminimum wages.