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Back on May 29, 2013, we reported that Goodwill, the national thrift shop chain, had come under fire for hiring people with disabilities using the federal minimum wage exception, while spending tens of millions of dollars per year on executive compensation and travel-related expenses.

This week, the U.S. Justice Department has found that a Providence vocational school ran what amounted to a sweatshop involving developmentally disabled students.  ABC affiliate WPRI-TV reports ( ) the department’s Civil Rights Division sent a letter to Rhode Island’s capital outlining violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the Harold H. Birch Vocational School.

The department found disabled students were paid little or nothing while working long hours in a “sheltered workshop” bagging, labeling, collating and assembling jewelry under contracts between the school and private businesses. It also found students were funneled into a similar segregated program after leaving Birch.  According to reports, workers with disabilities made an average $1.57 per hour, with one person making as little as 14 cents per hour.  Under the agreement, individuals with disabilities will receive supported employment and integrated day services sufficient to support a 40-hour work week. It is expected they will work an average 20 hours a week at a job at competitive wages.

Providence Mayor, Angel Taveras, says the city shut down the program He says he’s also talking with public safety officials about a criminal investigation.  The Department of Justice will continue its statewide investigation into the state’s day activity service system for people with intellectual and development disabilities.

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