Federal Rules Would Harm Work Centers for the Disabled

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By ANNE SCHIEBER Proposed regulations would cause lower employment for those with special needs

Eric_Strack_ArnoldCenter Eric Strack works through the Arnold Center. Photo credit CapCon

Work centers for the disabled provide a useful service for businesses while allowing individuals with special needs to gain work skills and autonomy. But new federal regulations would make life difficult for these charitable operations, potentially causing some to close their doors.

These centers have historically been exempt from minimum wage laws, but proposed rules from the federal Labor Department would end the exemption. Regulators are also considering mandating "integrated work settings," which means they would have to employ more higher-priced, nondisabled workers to work with those who are disabled. For many centers, that means they would have to fire disabled workers to hire more regular staff.

"That just doesn't make sense to me," said Charles Markey, the president of the Arnold Center in Midland.

For now, people with work challenges such as cognitive disabilities will continue to have employment options under an executive order signed by Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. The order has the effect of insulating rehabilitation work centers from attempts to impose wage and hour regulations that are not appropriate to charitable efforts to provide gainful employment for disabled individuals.

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