STERLING – In the wake of the revocation of its federal wage certification, Self Help Enterprises says it has no plans to reduce its workforce or the number of people it serves.
In a statement released Tuesday to Sauk Valley Media, the private, nonprofit agency said that although it was “shocked and saddened” by the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision, it is focused on moving forward.
“The board and staff are committed to keeping the doors open and continuing to offer the rehabilitative services and opportunities for those with disabilities that were started in 1964,” the release said.
Since the Department of Labor’s action, Self Help Executive Director Carla Haubrich and board members have refused to be interviewed.
The federal agency announced April 23 that its investigation of Self Help determined that nearly 250 disabled workers had been unfairly compensated. The findings resulted in the immediate loss of its wage certificate.
The certificate, in accordance with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, allows organizations with sheltered workshops to pay disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage. Agencies with the certification must adhere to a complex formula for determining a fair wage for workers who have physical or mental disabilities that lower productivity.
The investigation found that Self Help failed to conduct wage surveys in a timely fashion or to conduct time studies on all of the jobs done by disabled workers.
The Department of Labor also said Self Help tried to block 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 loss of the certificate, effective immediately, forces Self Help to reimburse workers who have been underpaid in the past 2 years.
The Department of Labor said Self Help had been given several chances to comply with the law, but failed to do so, which was a big factor in its decision.
Self Help has 60 days to petition for a review of the Department of Labor’s action. Although the agency says it disagrees with the findings, it is abiding by the ruling.
Without wage certification, all of Self Help’s workers must be paid no less than the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
How much money is involved has not yet been determined, Self Help has said.
“Executive Director Haubrich has already made the necessary payroll changes to comply with the decision, and the agency is diligently working on the assessment of back pay order amounts,” Self Help said.
The agency plans to formally challenge the decision, but in its effort to move forward, a focus group will be set up to evaluate Self Help’s structure and opportunities for the disabled. The focus group will include staff, board members, consumers’ family members, disability rights advocates, church and community representatives and business leaders.
“It is our hope to formulate a positive action plan moving forward to continue to maximize opportunities and vocational training for disabled persons,” Self Help said.
The agency said employees and their families are being helped through the process.