Self Help hit with labor law violations

Federal investigation determines nearly 250 workers exploited

CHICAGO – Self Help Enterprises has lost certification that allows the organization to pay disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage.

The certificate was revoked after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation determined that nearly 250 workers with disabilities had been exploited, it said in a news release Monday.

The certificate is given under accordance with Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is designed to offer disabled workers more job opportunities to compensate for lost workplace productivity.

The certificate sets up a formula allowing employers to determine a fair subminimum wage when physical or mental disabilities lower productivity. The wages are calculated as a percentage of the rate paid to experienced workers for similar jobs in the area.

The investigation revealed Self Help’s failure to conduct wage surveys in a timely fashion or time studies on all of the jobs done by disabled workers.

The Department of Labor also cited Self Help’s attempts to obstruct its investigation by covering up relevant information and hiding work that the employer had not time-studied but had the workers perform. On some weekends, Self Help unlawfully replaced wages with gift cards.

The federal agency said Self Help, which is at 2300 E. LeFevre Road, had been given guidance and several opportunities to show compliance with the law, but failed to do so, weighing heavily on the decision to revoke its certificate.

“The Department of Labor is committed to protecting Americans with disabilities from exploitation in the workplace,” Ruben Rosalez, acting regional administrator, said in the news release. “When employers violate federal law and obstruct investigators, we take decisive action to protect vulnerable workers, their families, and other employers who play by the rules.”

The loss of the certificate is effective immediately. It also forces Self Help to reimburse workers who have been underpaid in the last 2 years.

​How much money that involves was not immediately available. The news release arrived late this afternoon, after Self Help closed for the day, and Executive Director Carla Haubrich could not be reached.

The agency appears to no longer have a working website, and nothing new has been posted on its Facebook page, Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises Inc., since Feb. 26.

The Department of Labor said it denied Self Help’s pending applications for certificate renewal. Without it, all of Self Help’s workers must be paid no less than the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The federal agency is working with local, state and federal agencies to provide resources for Self Help workers who might be impacted. Law enforcement agencies have been notified of the situation.

According to federal labor law, disabilities that can affect productivity include blindness, mental illness, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Educational disabilities, chronic unemployment and legal problems are not considered when paying special minimum wages.

MORE INFORMATION

Employees and employers with questions about the Fair Labor Standards Act or any of the federal wage laws administered by the U.S. Department of Labor can call the agency's toll-free helpline at 866-487-9243. All calls are confidential. More information is available at dol.gov/whd.