Issued April 11, 2016
WASHINGTON— The AbilityOne Commission — the federal government’s fundamental program to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities — did the right thing March 18 by declaring that all workers employed on its contracts should receive at least the federal minimum wage. However, if AbilityOne truly wants to be a “model of best practices,” it needs to take further steps to advance workers’ rights.
“We welcome AbilityOne’s commitment to offer ‘quality employment and equitable wages,’” said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Executive Vice President Valarie Long. “But workers’ greatest protection comes when they can act together to improve their pay and working conditions.”
Yet, workers with disabilities have long been treated as second-class citizens, and denied basic rights afforded to other workers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). To become a true model of best practices, AbilityOne should build on its March 18 statement and declare that workers with disabilities should be entitled to the same labor rights as all other workers, including rights under the NLRA to take concerted action.
A Connecticut-based program pioneered by 32BJ SEIU offers an excellent model that AbilityOne should adopt as a pilot project. The program — a partnership between the union, state government and the Connecticut Community Providers Association — has created quality employment opportunities for workers with disabilities while providing critical job protections.
Aristides Basto, who participates in the Connecticut program as a commercial cleaner, describes his experience: “This job has allowed me to be an example to my son and show him that people with disabilities can make a decent living with good jobs that offer equal wages, benefits and protection in the workplace.”
SEIU commends AbilityOne for adopting a new minimum wage policy. Notwithstanding, the commission should look to Connecticut for a model that advances full participation by people with disabilities in our economy.