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'Immorality' in Texas workshop

The Brownsville Herald » ORC paying non-disabled below minimum wage

A curious story -- not because of its reporting, which is straightforward enough -- but because of the larger issue:

Company documents show that ORC Industries Inc. is paying at least one nondisabled employee at its Brownsville manufacturing plant below the federal minimum wage, a practice that is against what law and “immoral,” according to labor and civil rights experts.

Another ORC worker who says he has a mental illness, for which he is medicated, also receives less than the minimum $5.15 per-hour wage, even though his illness does not affect his productivity, he said.

Former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall said paying an able-bodied adult below minimum wage in a manufacturing plant was “obviously illegal” and “immoral.” Civil rights lawyers consulted for this article said the latter instance was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other laws.

Brownsville Herald reporter Chris Mahon never seems to get into whether or not it's "immoral" for the other "employees" at ORC to get subminimum wage. It's not illegal, but...

A bit more:

One man who asked to be called “Cody” said ORC told him that its minimum wage exemption allowed the nonprofit to pay him the piece rate, even though he says he is not physically or mentally disabled.

“It’s not fair to us,” he said. Cody said he thought that Chief Executive Officer Barbara Barnard’s pay was unfair, as well. Her average annual salary and deferred compensation since 2001 has been in excess of $800,000.

Jim Harrington, the director of the Texas Civil Rights Project and an attorney, said extending the piece rate pay structure to the nondisabled was “against the law.”

“There’s no justification for paying a nondisabled employee less than minimum wage,” he said. “Apart from the ethics of it, it’s sheer exploitation.”

And the story never did say what the "ORC" in ORC Industries stands for.


I had the misfortune of turning to WI Div. Vocational Rehabilitation. It's a long story involving a tangle of state and federal policies, but---I ended up effectively locked into doing work at a "sheltered workshop" that primarily employs adults with developmental disabilities.

Although I (verifiably) work at a competitive rate/quality, I was paid as little as $1.25 per hour, doing routine assembly and packing chores. By law, this "special" subminimum wage can be paid ONLY if the individual works at a rate/quality that is substantially lower than that of the average non-disabled person. Also, the agency/workshop is required by law to tell the individual that he/she might be paid less than the legal minimum wage, before that individual starts working.

Both DVR and the sheltered workshop withheld that information in my case, and reportedly, that is a common practice. It's illegal, it's accomplished with taxpayer dollars, it's immorally exploitive, but it is profitable to the workshops and to the businesses that subcontract work through them. Businesses that would otherwise pay $10.00 or more per hour can now get that same work done for a fraction of the minimum wage.

And because this works out so well for DVR, the workshops and businesses, no one (no agencies or organizations that supposedly advocate on behalf of people with disabilities, no Legal Aid group, no Wisconsin politician) is willing to put an end to these illegal practices.

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