Self Help can return to paying clients below minimum wage

STERLING – As of Saturday, Rock River Valley Self Help Enterprises once again will be able to pay its clients subminimum wage rates based on their levels of skill.

That means Self Help will be able to hire back and pay more of its clients – once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, said Pam Fluck, president of its board of directors.

The nonprofit, which provides training and employment for people with intellectual challenges, lost its U.S. Department of Labor Commensurate Wage Certificate in July 2019.

It was ordered to pay 215 current and former employees with disabilities nearly $574,000 in back wages as part of its agreement to resolve issues uncovered by the department. Its investigation found that Self Help failed to pay disabled employees correctly, as required by Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and attempted to mislead and obstruct the investigation by concealing information and hiding work that had not been properly time-studied.

That meant the agency, which has a sheltered workshop, no longer was allowed to pay disabled workers less than the $7.25 federal minimum hourly wage, and therefore, couldn’t afford to pay as many workers as before.

“Our clients are our family. We cherish each and every one of these individuals and their families,” Fluck said in a letter to parents and clients, announcing its recertification to paying employees based on their abilities.

“While we would like to welcome all of our clients back to work, the ongoing pandemic restrictions governs our capacity limits. As soon as we receive notification from [the Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois Department of Health] that restrictions are changing, we will immediately notify those not yet back with a start date.”

The Commensurate Wage Certificate requires Self Help to determine a fair wage for its workers by periodically comparing the quality and quantity of their work to that of experienced workers doing similar work in the community, and to provide training to improve skills when needed.

Clients, parents and guardians will be notified of the results of each individual’s evaluation, and his or her wage rate.

“Without a Commensurate Wage Certificate, Self Help’s most challenged clients would be unable to participate in, and contribute to, the sheltered workshop program,” Fluck said in a news release.

“By being allowed to pay wages commensurate with each client’s abilities, Self Help can offer competitive contract rates to local manufacturers for simple assembly work or simple product packaging. These contracts, in turn, provide the work opportunities for Self Help’s clients,” the release said.

“This certificate enhances Self Help’s mission to provide meaningful work experiences to as many workers as possible, particularly those with the most significant challenges, by allowing Self Help to pay a commensurate or proportionate wage based on each individual worker’s abilities, needs, limitation and productivity.”

The Commensurate Wage Certificate is available for anyone to review; call Self Help at 815-626-3115 for more information.

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.