"We structure our pay levels and benefits for integration and competitive pay models," says the Marysville employer of people with developmental disabilities.

Editor:

I am writing in response to your lead story on page 28 of the September 2019 edition of Columbus CEO. Thank you for highlighting the incredible contribution so many individuals with developmental disabilities are making in our workplaces. Highlighting the progress will help more employers learn of the tremendous resource this community has to offer. I believe there may also be more to the story from organizations like UCO Industries. We have worked fervently to align with the principles of integrated community employment. We have blazed new trails locally and nationally in our quest to continually improve upon our business model.

UCO Industries privatized in 2013 as a not-for-profit employer of adults with developmental disabilities, offering an integrated work environment. We employ 130 people with and without developmental disabilities replicating community employment, and structure our pay levels and benefits for integration and competitive pay models. Employees come to UCO solely to work and to receive work benefits that an employer provides. If UCO employees require job coaching or other Medicaid covered services during their work day, a Medicaid service provider, the Columbus Center for Human Services, provides those. UCO does not.

UCO provides integration through competitive employment and pay models in several ways:

UCO offers a long term savings program to employees working 500 hours or more per year, which covers almost all of our employees. Employees can enroll in our 401(k) program and receive a 100 percent match from UCO on their contribution, up to 4 percent of their income. Alternatively, employees with a developmental disability, can set up a STABLE Account, and UCO will contribute an additional 4 percent of the employee’s pay to their STABLE Account. The STABLE program is Ohio’s version of the Federal ABLE program, and is administered by the State Treasurer’s office. These accounts allow individuals to save up to prescribed levels of savings, without jeopardizing their Social Security Income or Medicaid coverage. According to the Treasurer’s office on 1/1/2018, UCO was the first company in the nation to begin using the Federal ABLE program in this manner. As we understand it, no other employers have yet begun to fund their employees with STABLE Accounts as UCO does. We believe there is a significant opportunity for other employers to begin following UCO’s model, but for now, UCO is the ONLY employer offering this employment benefit; 4% beyond the salary earned. Our business revenue supports our salaries and business expenses, just as any other employer. This is in stark contrast to the workshop model which was supported by Medicaid funding along with business revenue. In fact, the Union County Chamber of Commerce recognized UCO as Business of the Year in 2018. UCO specializes in hand assembly and packaging. We have a long history as a successful and award winning Tier One Supplier to Honda of North America. To recognize outstanding suppliers, Honda awards Quality and Excellence in Delivery awards only to the best. UCO has won five such awards. Our employees take pride in that and also enjoy the type of work they do for Honda and for our many other diverse customers and business lines. That’s why our employees want to continue working at UCO. The jobs at UCO governed by our sub-minimum wage certificate, are available to all employees. Since the pay rate per piece is determined by the speed of a typical worker, employees who are focused and efficient can earn well in excess of minimum wage on those jobs. Some employees with developmental disabilities earn $10, $12, or $14 per hour and more on these jobs. As with typical employers, we also have employees who enjoy our company for a while, learn new skills, and then pursue employment elsewhere. We view that movement to other companies as big a success as internal promotions within UCO. We work to position our employees for success in their careers, wherever they end up. All interested employees receive ongoing training and opportunity for advancement, similar to any other employer, allowing our employees to bust through the typical perceived barriers to performance. Several of our employees with DD who hold a driver’s license, have been trained and certified and given raises to operate our forklifts.

I want to correct the misperception that our employees may not be aware of other employment opportunities in the community. Regulatory changes in 2016 require all employers holding a sub-minimum wage certificate to educate their employees about other employment opportunities available in the community. The training must be independent from any training conducted by the employer like UCO. In Ohio, we are required to use Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities to conduct this mandatory training. Employees earning sub-minimum wage have been trained about other employment opportunities in the community.

Hopefully you can now see, UCO Industries offers an additional integrated employment option beyond those noted in your article. While a number of individuals were previously served almost exclusively by the traditional workshops, they now have a host of alternatives. UCO worked hard to become an integrated community employer, while continuing to protect and provide employment opportunities to individuals who may struggle to succeed in a traditional employer setting. Our model has allowed Union County to provide gainful employment for 66 percent of the adults with developmental disabilities in the county, compared to the 26 percent seen nationally. That seems to be a pretty significant local impact from UCO Industries.


David Amerine, CEO
UCO Industries Inc.
16900 Square Drive, Suite 110, Marysville, OH 43040