1. We need ETA and the Wage Hour Division to come together, develop and publish the Proposed Rule to fulfill Section 14(d) of the FLSA to define when a student/trainee with disabilities becomes an employee in work experience exploration, training and transition. Thirty-nine years is long enough to wait for the regulation. The proposed rule needs to address the options that have developed since 1974, such as customized employment. Many customized employment situations, i.e., self-employment and consumer businesses, do not meet the IRS and USDOL FLSA tests to be “independent contractors.” A regulation could open the door. The Proposed Section 14(d) Regulation should require all school-to-work and community based job exploration and training programs to be accredited and certificated/registered with the USDOL to ensure compliance with labor laws, including the youth labor protection laws.
2. We need to train school program administrators, job developers, and coaches in the fundamentals of the private work place employment relationship. As educators, they think they know it all, but they do not. They need to be able to talk to employers and their managers with knowledge of the work environment, the legal environment, the work/productivity – wage relationship, maximum-minimum staffing levels, and the cost of hiring. They need to understand the indirect impact on hiring other employees and the potential discrimination claims by other employees who do not get the accommodations given a student/trainee with disabilities that will go far beyond what is required or even acceptable with other employees. Far too many are using the “free labor while they learn” as the primary bargaining chip and incentive to entice employers to participate. Thousands of students/trainees with disabilities across the country are being exploited by performing work without pay as part of “exploration” and “training” that clearly benefits private employers and are displacing other employees or reducing their hours. When program personnel better understand the private workplace environment and labor laws, they will understand why we cannot begin work training and exploration below age 14 (except in agricultural employment) and why the restrictions apply to youth age 14 and 15.
3. We need to get off our high horse of intellectualism and quit disparaging all center-based work as evil. It is evident that many, the vast majority of the bloggers and commenters, have little knowledge of the commensurate wage law and have never been in the “integrated” center based work programs around the country or those that pay minimum wage or more. Just like any employer, some are great, some good and some not so good. Yes, forced segregation is wrong for those who do not want it. It is going to take both, competitive employment training and good center based where the options are available and allow choice. Why do we insist on restricting them to our “pie in the sky” ideals that we do not want? Not all of us, those without disabilities, want “integrated” employment. Many bloggers here prefer to work independently and in their homes with minimum contact. Many workers seek employment where they have little connection with others. It is just a personality trait, a preference, but not a personality disorder that deserves our intervention. We all, yes, even those of us without disabilities; seek employment with our peers, socioeconomically and educationally. So why are we so fast in denying persons with disabilities the same choices, to work with their friends who they know and understand, and not in an environment where they may be reminded daily of their limitations?
4. IEPs need to be realistic. Reality is that competitive job exploration, training, and work will not work for everyone with disabilities. Too many limit the opportunities with our own bias about what is a “good” job and what is “bad” or demeaning. We need to listen to M.L. King, Jr.’s speech.
5. Funding should not be hourly based. Too many programs are chasing the hours, focused on the funding, moving students/trainees from one job to another, stretching out the exploration and training far beyond what is necessary to maximize the funding, not the success of the student/trainee.