U.S. Dept. of Labor says Sterling nonprofit exploited 250 workers with disabilities

STERLING, Illinois --  The U.S. Department of Labor said a Sterling nonprofit exploited nearly 250 workers, violated labor laws and occasionally paid workers with gift cards instead of wages.

Self-Help Enterprises Inc., which employs people with developmental disabilities, is being forced to pay back wages to workers from the last two years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Self Help Enterprises, a nonprofit recycling, packaging and pallet manufacturer, has a Section 14(c) certificate, which allows them to pay workers under the federal minimum wage, based on productivity.

However, the Department's Wage and Hour Division found the nonprofit in violation of their certificate.  Under Section 14(c) Self Help Enterprises was required to perform appropriate wage surveys and conduct proper time studies on the jobs being performed by workers.  An investigation by the department found the nonprofit was not doing these things in a timely fashion.

In addition, a statement from the department revealed that the employer tried to hide information needed for the investigation.  They also hid work that employees were performing.

"On some weekends, Self Help unlawfully paid workers with gift cards instead of wages," read the statement.

Because of these violations, the 14(c) certificate was pulled.  Without the certificate Self Help has to pay all workers at least $7.25 per hour, which is the federal minimum wage. The nonprofit also has to pay back wages to all workers who were paid less than that for the last two years.

Any pending applications for certificate renewal have been denied.

Self Help Enterprises can appeal these determinations to the Work and Hour Division of the Department of Labor.

In response, the Executive Director of Self Help Enterprises, Carla Haubrich, issued the following statement:

"Self Help has been a productive agency serving the developmentally disabled workforce for 54 years. We are proud of the services that we offer and the community, family, that we have created for our workforce. We are obviously disappointed in the decision made by the United States Department of Labor, disagreeing with this outcome, but will take all necessary steps to comply with the decision as we pursue our available options to have the matter duly reviewed. At this point, however, until we can meet with the full Board of Directors, with our attorneys and wage consultant, I will have no further comment." 

Workers at Self Help Enterprises told WQAD News 8 that they will continue to conduct normal business hours.

“The Department of Labor is committed to protecting Americans with disabilities from exploitation in the workplace,” said Ruben Rosalez, Acting Regional Administrator. “When employers violate federal law and obstruct investigators, we take decisive action to protect vulnerable workers, their families, and other employers who play by the rules.”

The labor department is working to help any Self Help workers who may be impacted by the revocation and require additional assistance. If you have questions, you can call the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE.