Lawmakers visit Valley company amid employment legislation concerns

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WAYNESBORO, Va. (WHSV) — In a visit to Vector Industries in Waynesboro on Monday, Delegates Dickie Bell (R-20), Steve Landes and Ben Cline (R-24) looked at the work the company does within the community and legislative concerns affecting its work.

Vector Industries is a non-profit company that works to employ and train people both with and without disabilities. The employees do various jobs that help local manufacturers throughout Virginia, including Devil's Backbone and Hollister Inc.

According to Vector's CEO, Christine Johnston, the company has 23 employees (out of about 85) that make below minimum wage. Johnston says the company pays 77% of its employees at or above minimum wage.

Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows for sub-minimum wage employment for specific employers with a 14(c) certificate. Vector Industries was issued that certificate in May 2015, according to data by the United States Department of Labor.

In 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which defined a "positive employment outcome" as competitive and integrated while being full or part-time making minimum wage or higher, with similar benefits as non-disabled employees and integrated with them as well. Johnston says examples of a "competitive and integrated" business would be McDonalds or Target.

However, according to Johnston, Vector is not considered "competitive and integrated" because of those 23 employees who do not make minimum wage. Instead, they are referred to as a center-based employment organization (formally called a Sheltered Workshop). As of July 1, 2016, WIOA instructed the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services to stop employment referrals to center-based employment organizations (like Vector).

Johnston says there are several solutions that could happen. Either those 23 employees stop working, they be paid minimum wage (which she notes would be a "revenue challenge"), they go into a day-support program, or they work one hour at a "competitive, integrated" business.

Vector generates nearly 90% of its revenue from business operations, rather than from government funding,

It's a problem Del. Bell, a former special education teacher, wants to figure out.

"From the time those folks are in high school, what they really want to do is be like everybody else. If they're willing to work, they just want to be treated like other people," said Bell.

Another issue, according to company leaders, is that they have the work, but not the people to do the jobs — something Del. Bell points out is rare. He says that he doesn't know if there is a legislative fix, but he did note that there should be another meeting with several agencies involved to discuss the matter further.