NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Disability Coalition is fighting for equal pay for people with disabilities following a vote from lawmakers advocates call “disappointing.”
FOX 17 News first reported in April when four GOP Senators voted down a bill that would require businesses to pay people with disabilities at least minimum wage.
A federal law from 1938 allows some businesses to pay employees with disabilities a sub-minimum wage. There’s no bottom rule to the provision, so employers could legally pay pennies per hour.
One lawmaker tried banning that loophole in Tennessee, but a state subcommittee voted to keep it.
“It was odd, we were frustrated,” Tennessee Disability Coalition Coordinator of Government and External Affairs Jeff Strand said.
Strand says not supporting fair pay for those with disabilities sends an unfortunate message.
“It’s just as much about helping those folks achieve a fair wage as well as sending a message that their labor time and effort is worthwhile,” he said.
Businesses need a special certificate to qualify for the sub-minimum wage practices. Six businesses in Tennessee either have that certificate or have pending applications.
Strand says 39 people with disabilities work for those businesses right now. That’s 39 people possibly making less than $7.25 an hour.
“To discriminate based off this arbitrary understanding of disability that’s hung around since 1938 when the fair labor standards act came through is just, it needs to go,” Strand said.
Republican Senators Paul Bailey, Jack Johnson, Frank Niceley, and Steve Southerland voted against banning the sub-minimum wage.
Fox 17 News reached out to each of them on April 26, again on Friday, April 30, and again this past Friday.
Each senator refused to answer our questions.
Strand says the disability coalition is prioritizing this issue for the next legislative session. They plan to work closely with lawmakers as a resource and voice for those with disabilities.