The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

December 18, 2013

Skyline voices labor concerns to Rep. Loebsack

By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack toured Skyline Center on Tuesday where he learned what consumers of the Clinton organization produce and what legislative changes are on the minds of its directors.

Among the issues that topped the list were changes to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and cuts to federal grants.

Skyline employs Clinton and area residents with disabilities in its warehouse to produce items such as gun cleaning kits, store displays and bike chain pieces. The workers, known as “consumers”, are paid a piece rate based on the prevailing wage of similar industries. Many of these workers end up being paid less than the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, which is permitted by the Fair Labor Standards Act. According to Section 14(c), organizations such as Skyline Center can pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage.

A number of groups across the country have rallied to abolish Section 14(c), which would force employers such as Skyline to pay all employees the federal minimum wage.

The effects of having to pay all their workers would hurt Skyline Center and the disabled who work there, according to Executive Director Jack Robinson and Operations Director Glenn Schilling.

“We’d have to pay them minimum wage and we wouldn’t be able to. Also, they wouldn’t be able to support themselves, primarily,” Robinson said.

Around 90 people work at the warehouse and another 14 work at various jobs in the community. The Clinton organization helps consumers secure jobs and live in the community and provides home health care. Around 70 are in community living programs and 45 receive home healthcare. The organization also boasts 125 staff members and can have up to 60 temporary consumers at any given time.

If 14(c) was abolished, Skyline would have to reduce its workforce, Robinson said, adding to the unemployment rate of those with disabilities.

Figures from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy show that across the country in November, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 12.4 percent, nearly twice as high as the unemployment rate for people without disabilities.

Loebsack declined to take a stance on 14(c)’s worth, but said he sympathized with Skyline leaders’ concerns.

“I understand where they’re coming from and I’ll keep an open mind,” he said.

Robinson and Schilling also told Loebsack about the cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program as a result of the sequester.

Skyline used a CDBG grant to add 20,000 square feet to its warehouse around 2001. If the organization wanted to expand in the future, the CDBG cuts create concern about whether funds would be available.