By Mike Ervin

President Obama's executive order raising the minimum wage of employees of federal contractors to $10.10 per hour is a great victory for thousands of workers with disabilities.

Appallingly, workers with disabilities can sometimes be paid far less than the minimum wage.

Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to petition the U.S. Department of Labor for permission to pay certain disabled workers less than minimum wage. The employer must do a calculation to make the case that the disabled worker is supposedly less productive than a nondisabled person performing the same job and thus should be paid less.

An estimated 216,000 disabled workers are paid less than minimum wage under this provision. There is no limit to how little these workers can be paid and some make less than $1 per hour.

Disability rights activists have tried unsuccessfully for years to convince Congress to repeal the provision.

So shortly after Obama announced in the State of Union address that he would issue the executive order, 25 disability rights organizations, including the National Down Syndrome Congress and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, sent a letter to the president urging him to make sure all federal contract workers with disabilities are covered by the order.

"We believe that all Americans should be afforded minimum wage protections, including those workers with disabilities," the letter said.

When Obama issued the order, he said, "It will cover Americans with disabilities. This doesn't just apply to some of us; it applies to all of us."

Obama deserves accolades for this major step forward.

But tens of thousands of people with disabilities working for employers not covered by the order will still be paid less than minimum wage.

Justice will not be served until Congress repeals Section 14(c) and makes sure that the minimum wage applies to all of us.

Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT ( He can be reached at

Copyright Mike Ervin.

Photo: "Man in wheelchair with mobile phone," via Shutterstock.


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The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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