On March 25, 2014 I appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee as the prime sponsor of HB 1174 which would eliminate sub-minimum wages in New Hampshire. Following is my testimony:
“Thank you Mr. Chairman and Senators for this opportunity to speak with you today. For the record, my name is Chris Muns. I am a state representative from Rockingham District 21, which is the Town of Hampton and I am the prime sponsor of HB 1174. More importantly, I am also the father of a young adult with a disability.
I am joined here today by four friends of mine – Laurie McCray and her son Michael and Susan Hatfield and her son Robert. They would like to share their personal stories with you after my remarks.
As you know, we currently do not have a state minimum wage and we default to the federal minimum which is $7.25 per hour.
It was my understanding that every worker in the state of New Hampshire receives at least $7.25 per hour; even tipped employees in restaurants; where a portion of the tips that they receive may be used by their employer as credit towards the requirement that they receive at least $7.25 per hour.
Now, I tend to be a fairly literal person – which has sometimes gotten me into hot water – but to me a “minimum wage” is just that – the lowest amount that any employer should be able to pay somebody; anybody.
You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I discovered that there are laws and regulations on the books today not only at the federal level but in New Hampshire that permit businesses and other organizations to legally pay some of our fellow citizens a “sub-minimum” wage; i.e. something less than $7.25 per hour.
These laws and regulations make it legal for businesses and other organizations operating in our state to pay a person with a disability less than the minimum wage, solely based on the fact that they have a disability. Any New Hampshire business not engaged in interstate commerce with less than $500,000 in total sales can apply to pay subminimum wages to a person with a disability under RSA 279:22, and 279:22-a. New Hampshire businesses who are engaged in interstate commerce or have more than $500,000 in total sales can apply to the U.S. Department of Labor under section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Now in fairness to everyone involved, many of these laws and regulations were adopted 40, 50 and 60 years ago, when attitudes towards persons with a disability were different; remember the Laconia State School did not close until 1991. Public perceptions – particularly early on when these laws were enacted – were that any job, regardless of how menial or low-paying was better than nothing; even if that meant working in a so-called “sheltered workplace” segregated from the general workforce.
In the intervening years public attitudes and laws – the Americans with Disability Act, for example – have changed and efforts to assist persons with a disability are no longer focused on “caring for” or “housing” them, but rather on providing them with the same rights to exercise self-determination, be independent, be productive and be integrated and included in all facets of community life.
There has also been a growing realization that anyone, regardless of their disability can be a productive member of society if they are placed in the right job; a job that not only takes into consideration their particular disability, but recognizes a particular skill or aptitude that may come along with that disability. My son for example is very good with numbers and patterns and has become an expert on the Dewey decimal system at our local library where we works 10 hours per week putting books back on the shelf; in the right place and in the right order. And he does it better than anyone else.
Some will argue that a person with a disability should not be paid the same as someone without a disability because they cannot be as productive as the non-disabled individual. I agree….to a certain extent. Because I have not been trained as a welder, I should not expect to be paid as much as a trained welder. On the other hand my lack of training as a welder should not limit how much I can earn in a position to which I might be more suited.
The key to my long term economic security – and to the long-term economic security – and independence – of persons with a disability – is to find the job that matches my skill set with the requirements of that position. And then the free market should take over and I should earn as much as my own initiative and the market will bear. Persons with a disability should have the same opportunity. And just as we a long ago decided that no person should earn less than a certain minimum amount, that minimum should also apply to persons with a disability.
There are efforts underway to update the Fair Labor Standards Act and eliminate federal protection for subminimum wages. The bill you have before you was recommended as Ought to Pass as Amended unanimously by the House Committee Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services and was approved by the House on the consent calendar. It establishes a study committee to look into whether or not to remove the language permitting sub-minimum wages from the RSAs.
Since the bill was introduced we learned that three Community Rehabilitation Programs in the state had previously received Section 14c authorization certificates from the U.S. Department of Labor authorizing them to pay subminimum wages in New Hampshire. As of February 28, 2014 the certificates for all three of them have expired and they have not been renewed and none of these organizations are currently paying anyone in the state a sub-minimum wage.
We also learned that one of these employers was the only employer in the state who applied for and received a waiver under RSA 279-22 or 279-22-a and they are currently not paying anyone a subminimum wage.
Hearing this, during the Executive Session on HB 1174 there was an emerging consensus among members of the House Labor Committee that they should amend the bill to repeal the applicable RSAs and end the practice of sub-minimum wages. They chose not to do so because they felt that would require an additional public hearing. However, the clear impression that the House Labor Committee created was that if the bill were amended by the Senate to repeal the sub-minimum wage they would support that in a conference committee. I believe that Senator Hosmer has an amendment that he will be presenting to you for your consideration that does just that.
We have reviewed the proposed amendment with representatives of both the Business and Industry Association and the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association and they have indicated that they are not opposed to a repeal of the sub minimum wage
I urge you to approve Senator Hosmer’s amendment and recommend the amended bill as Ought to Pass as Amended to your colleagues in the full Senate. The practices of paying sub-minimum wages is outdated and obsolete and the employers in our state have already indicated by their actions that it is time that we treat all of our citizens with the respect and dignity that they are all entitled to and give everyone an equal opportunity to be successful. .
Thank you for your time. I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have. If you have none, may I please let introduce you to Laurie McCray.