A Huntington-based nonprofit is part of a growing movement to provide better pay for individuals with developmental disabilities. Pathfinder Services says it has requested to be withdrawn from future 14(c) certifications through the U.S. Department of Labor, which allow employers to pay wages less than the federal minimum wage to workers with disabilities for the work they perform. Pathfinder Chief Executive Officer Danielle Tips says the change has been several years in the making for the nonprofit.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Tips said the organization has prioritized competitive, integrative employment for people with disabilities.
“Our goal is for individuals to live their best life and that means being part of the community, a part of society and being in a workshop environment is just a training facility and it should not be their long-term goal, but a training facility that helps them learn the skills and learn the trade that prepares them for community employment,” said Tips.
Among the many services for people with disabilities, Pathfinder contracts with area companies through its Outsource Manufacturing division to provide training and work experience. Under the 14(c) certification, those workers would be paid based on their production output as they learn the skills they need to succeed.
“Over the course of the last few years, that has improved to the point where even with the sub-minimum wage, their production has increased so much that they were close to that minimum wage threshold anyways,” said Tips. “[We] have gotten to the point…that we’ve been busy enough that we were able to go ahead and say, ‘You know what, we don’t need to utilize that sub-minimum wage anymore and we’re going to make that decision and that commitment to pay only minimum wage going forward.'”
Tips says its workforce program is a stepping stone for people with disabilities to find meaningful employment in their communities.
“Our individuals are learning the skills that they need in a safe environment with individuals that they feel comfortable with. They’re able to, risk-free if you will, come in, learn the social skills – we call them soft skills – and then they’re able to try out those skills in another environment,” she said. “[We’re] helping them to learn what their personal interests are and what does that look like? Is that in the healthcare industry? Is that in the manufacturing industry? We’re fortunate right now that our job market has a lot of availability, but it’s really helping them try those skills and help them develop some of the training and then step out from there.”
The Association of People Supporting Employment First says more and more nonprofits are phasing out the use of sub-minimum wage and Tips adds the shift to a more traditional minimum wage model in the disability world will continue that trend.
In addition to the employment services, Pathfinder provides a variety of other services such as its Early Head Start program. In February, the nonprofit cut the ribbon on an expansion of its Huntington campus, which included four new classrooms.
Tips says the organization has prioritized competitive, integrative employment for people with disabilities.