The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered Pennsylvania organizations to pay $118,000 in back wages to workers with disabilities since 2011, according to records PublicSource obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The workers already were earning far below minimum wage because the employers have a special license to pay people with disabilities less.
There is very little oversight on the state or national level of these employers, making it impossible to know how widespread the pay issues are and whether they are accidental or intentional.
Over nearly four years, the labor department has conducted only 29 investigations in the state, primarily of nonprofits that were granted a federal license to pay ‘special minimum wages’ to workers whose productivity is affected by a disability.
There are currently 126 organizations in the state with the license. About 13,000 disabled Pennsylvanians earn an average of $2.40 an hour in these subminimum-wage work programs, according to a PublicSource analysis of federal labor documents.
The audits resulted in orders for 17 organizations to pay back wages to 1,193 employees, including non-disabled employees in some cases.
Two organizations — Growth Horizons in Bucks County, and Greene Arc in Greene County — were investigated twice in the time period. The inquiries were concluded after the groups agreed to pay back wages and promised future compliance.
The Greene Arc was ordered to pay more back wages than any other group, owing more than $40,000 after a 2013 investigation found that the nonprofit did not use the appropriate standard for setting wages for the workers.
The investigation also found that Greene Arc was deducting the allowed 15-minute breaks from the employees' overall hours worked.
Disabled workers at Greene Arc were earning an average of $3.59 an hour for shredding, food preparation, recycling and greenhouse work, according to its 2012-14 application.
Cynthia Dias, executive director of Greene Arc, said she could not comment on the findings of the investigation because she was traveling.
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Some Groups That Pay Disabled Workers Below Minimum Wage Not Complying With Law
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Thousands of Disabled Workers in Pennsylvania Paid Far Below Minimum Wage