Citizen Action's attack on Governor Walker unwarranted
Madison, Wis., – On Thursday, Jan. 16, a group called Citizen Action attacked Governor Walker for his recent visit to ORC Industries, a community rehabilitation program (CRP) that operates four production facilities in Wisconsin and Texas. Dave Lemanski, President of the Board of Directors of RFW in Action, the state association of CRPs, responded to the claims made by Citizen Action by saying, "We are truly dismayed by the attempt to characterize ORC Industries as a sweatshop that exploits people with disabilities. The truth of the matter is that ORC Industries provides employment to people with disabilities, who have a very low rate of participation in the work force nationwide (18.7% in December 2013)."
Lemanski said, "We resent the allegations Citizens Action made against an organization that has a solid history of producing goods that meet the highest United States military standards. From rain suits to ponchos, from tents to the U.S. Navy 'dixie cup' hats, ORC Industries is an important part of the military supply chain. Governor Walker should be commended for recognizing the contributions made by ORC Industries and the other AbilityOne-authorized producers in Wisconsin to the employment of people with disabilities, to our state's economy, and to the readiness of our troops, with his visit to the La Crosse facility."
As an AbilityOne-authorized producer, ORC Industries is part of a nationwide network of more than 550 community nonprofit agencies that fulfill contract needs for the federal government, commercial businesses, and government contractors. This nonprofit network provides training for people with disabilities, assists them in identifying employment options, and enables them to achieve success at work and independence, employing more than 125,000 people with significant disabilities.
The press release issued by Citizen Action also provided an incomplete picture of the earnings of employees in ORC's Wisconsin facilities by citing a wage report that was issued by a group that opposes the use of the commensurate wage for people with significant disabilities, as part a long-standing campaign to eliminate critical public policies that allow people with disabilities to work under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
As a respected company performing work on multiple federal contracts during the time period cited, ORC's payroll records show that just 87 of its 219 Wisconsin employees were paid under a special wage certificate. The other 132 employees earned a minimum wage or higher. ORC employed 151 individuals with severe disabilities, including the 87 paid under the certificate. 67 of these individuals (42%) earned a minimum wage or higher. During the reporting period cited in the Citizen Action press release, the entire group of 151 people with severe disabilities earned an average wage of $8.85/hour, with some earning more than the local prevailing wage.
Lemanski urged a more reasoned discussion of disability employment issues in the future. "We hope that people with disabilities and the organizations that serve them will not get caught in the political crossfire during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Our state has a proud record of bipartisan support for the employment of people with significant disabilities. We should keep it that way."
Wisconsin's Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs) provide center-based and community-based training and employment opportunities to thousands of people with disabilities and economic disadvantages. Rehabilitation for Wisconsin in Action is a statewide association that represents CRPs and other organizations that provide training, employment, and community living services.