Labor Secretary Sets Benchmarks for Federal Hiring of Disabled Workers and Veterans

New federal regulations handed down by Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will help disabled workers and veterans gain employment from federal contractors. The new standards would mandate that disabled workers make up 7 percent of the workforce on any federal contract. They would also set a benchmark of eight percent for veteran workforce make up.

The unemployment rates for disabled and veteran workers are currently 14.7 percent and 7.3 percent respectively, though the number for those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan is 9.9 percent.  

Federal contractors and subcontractors currently employ roughly 16 million workers or nearly 20 percent of the entire workforce. The new rules will affect contractors with over 50 employees and $50,000 in government contracts. Estimates show that this means the new rules will govern over 171,000 companies that do business with the U.S. government. Patricia A. Shiu, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, estimated that if these contractors meet compliance in the first year it would create 585,000 jobs for disabled workers and 200,000 for veterans.  

Via the Associated Press:

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez called the new policy a “win-win” that will benefit workers “who belong in the economic mainstream and deserve a chance to work and opportunity to succeed.” He said it also would benefit employers by increasing their access to a diverse pool of new workers.

“To create opportunity, we need to strengthen our civil rights laws and make sure they have the intended effect,” Perez told reporters in a conference call announcing the rules.

For Perez, assisting the disabled has been a career theme. According to Ari Ne’eman, cofounder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and appointee to the National Council on Disability:

The 503 regulations are a significant step forward. The disability community has been pushing for these for years and they provide the first meaningful enforcement of a statute that’s been on the books since 1973.

Perez is sort of a disability rights rockstar – when he was at Justice, he was a lion on ADA and Olmstead enforcement.

Officials in the Labor Department have said that the new standards are only goals and not specific quotas. They will begin in six months, allowing contractors time to implement new strategies on how to achieve the goals. If a company cannot meet the goals they will be required to examine their recruitment and outreach practices. While there will not initially be a fine or penalty for not meeting the goals, a company found to be out of compliance with the new standards risks having their federal contracts revoked.  

Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability, told the AP she did not think companies would have trouble meeting the new goals, saying, “There are many organizations in the disability field who stand prepared to help companies meet these goals.”

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Chaz Bolte
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