Rhode Island Senate to consider disabled worker bill

(The Center Square) – Repealing a law that permits employers to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage is making its way to the Rhode Island Senate.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed House Bill 7511, sponsored by Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, on Tuesday. The bill, if enacted, would prevent the practice that landed the state in a lawsuit with the Department of Justice, which was settled in 2014, for paying workers with intellectual or developmental disabilities lower wages.

As part of the 2014 settlement, the state agreed to stop the use of sheltered workshops in which disabled individuals attending day programs performed work for wages that were well below minimum wage. To date, the law remained on the books despite the agreement.

“Disabled individuals are entitled to the same rights, protections and dignity as all Rhode Islanders, and they should be protected by our minimum wage laws,” Shekarchi said in the release. “While I’m relieved that state day programs for the disabled stopped engaging in this practice a few years ago, there’s no excuse for any law that allows anyone to take advantage of disabled people and pay them less than other workers. We must repeal this law to ensure that no one abuses disabled Rhode Islanders in this way ever again.”

The Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council said, according to the release, that disabled workers receiving lower wages in the past was used to control, dehumanize, and segregate those individuals from society. The practice earned companies larger profits while workers were paid pennies on the dollar.

State programs, according to the release, used a sheltered workshop until the settlement as they interfered with federal rights of disabled people.

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