Obama to include disabled workers in federal minimum-wage hike

Executive order will end decades-old practice of paying disabled federal employees less than minimum wage

Employers had been able to pay disabled federal workers less than minimum wage under a Depression-era law.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Wednesday to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors. The wage hike will also apply to disabled federal workers, according to the White House.

Since 1938, employers could pay some physically and mentally disabled federal employees less than minimum wage. Obama's executive order will end this practice under all future contracts.

"It will cover Americans with disabilities," Obama said speaking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "This doesn't just apply to some of us; it applies to all of us." 

The executive order only affects new contracts, but it still impacts about 250,000 workers. Most of the workers affected by the pay raise will be janitorial staff or people working concession stands. How many employees are currently paid less than minimum wage because of disabilities isn’t clear.

"Under current law, workers whose productivity is affected because of their disabilities may be paid less than the wage paid to others doing the same job under certain specialized certificate programs,” according to a White House memo.

Supporters of rights for the disabled started a campaign to include disabled workers in the wage hike after the president announced his plans to increase the minimum wage during his State of the Union address in January, USA Today reported Wednesday.

Ari Ne'eman, president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, applauded the White House’s decision to include disabled workers in the executive order.

"We applaud the administration for hearing the voices of the disability community and including disabled workers in the new minimum wage protections for contractors," Ne'eman told the paper.

The White House said the order requires that federal employees who work for tips make at least $10.10 overall.

Obama also called on Congress to pass legislation to gradually raise wages for all workers to the same level. 

"You can help people make progress, or you can hinder that progress," Obama said. "America deserves a raise."  

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press 

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