ROCK FALLS, Illinois -- Nearly 250 workers at a Sterling, Illinois nonprofit company may have money coming back to them, after the Department of Labor said the company was not paying them properly.
Self Help Enterprises is a recycling, packing and pallet manufacturer that hires people with disabilities. A recent investigation by the Department of Labor, however, showed that the nonprofit was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Because of the violations, the nonprofit is losing its Section 14(c) certificate, which allowed them to pay workers less than minimum wage; paying them instead based on productivity.
One worker, Jacob Underwood, has been with Self Help for 14 years.
He said he typically works between 25 and 30 hours per week, but said the division he works in doesn't always have work for him to do.
"The area I’m in now, we can go two to three days without work and that makes my paycheck suffer," he said.
"Some of these paychecks I spend more money sending him to work than he makes from these," said his mom Linda Underwood, as she held the stack of pay stubs.
His pay stubs showed inconsistent payment amounts. Some showed he was making about $2 per hour: showing that he had worked about 34 hours and made $70. But another showed he worked 26.35 hours and made $72.70 before taxes.
"I’m hurt because for one thing this is my son and I have fought for him all his life," said Linda, "and I think they’re doing him wrong... I want to see him get paid for what he's doing."
Jacob said he would like to get into another division of Self Help, where he would have more consistent work and make more money.
"I think it’d be pretty cool to come home and tell my family I made a $200 paycheck," he said. But his long-term dream is to be a writer. "I like to write scary stories so maybe someday I’ll be a published writer and I’ll say forget work."
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."