Disability advocates and Goodwill employees have started a new Change.org petition demanding that Goodwill petitionend the practice of paying their disabled employees as low as 22 cents an hour for their work. In under a week, the petition has drawn more than 150,000 signatures and passionate comments from customers, staff, and allies who say Goodwill should do more to live up to its “do good” image. See http://www.change.org/goodwill

Harold and Sheila Leighland, two blind Goodwill employees who launched the fast growing petition with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) last week, say the practice is dehumanizing and exploitative. Sheila worked at a Goodwill in Montana for four years making about $3.50 an hour but was forced to quit when Goodwill lowered her hourly wage to $2.75.

“Goodwill and others are profiting from exploiting disabled workers,” said Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and member of the National Council on Disability (NCD). “It is clearly and unquestionably exploitation and that’s why over 150,000 people are calling on Goodwill to help end this practice.”

Critics like Leighland and Ne’eman say the low wages are tied to a Depression-era law that allows companies to use time tests used to measure the output of a disabled worker. Disabled employees, like the Leighlands, are measured with a stopwatch to see how quickly they can complete a task like hanging up clothes. That time is then compared to how long it takes a non-disabled person to complete the task, and used to determine the disabled person’s pay.

“The time tests are the most degrading and stressful part of the job,” explains Sheila. “You never know how it’s going to come out and if you’re going to be making less money afterward.” For Harold, even when the timing goes well, the pay increase isn’t much. He says even though he recently improved his time for hanging up garments, his pay only increased from $5.32 an hour to $5.40.

In a report that came out last year, the NCD recommended that Sec. 14 (c), the law that allows employers to pay disabled workers subminimum wages, be gradually phased out calling it a “relic in policy left over from the 1930s” and that disabled workers need to be “given the chance to earn at least minimum wage or greater.”

Jim Gibbons, Goodwill International’s CEO, who is also blind, has defended the practice of paying disabled employees less than their non-disabled co-workers. Goodwill claims that if employers paid the minimum wage, “individuals with significant disabilities would likely never be offered the opportunity to work.”

Gibbons made $729,000 in 2011 while the salaries for CEOs for about 150 Goodwill franchises around the country total more than $30 million.

“Twenty-three years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Goodwill’s actions should be universally recognized as disgraceful,” said Ne’eman. “If you can afford to pay six- and seven-figure salaries to your executives, you can afford to pay minimum wage to your employees.”

Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to obtain special minimum wage certificates from the Department of Labor that provides them with the right to pay disabled workers according to their abilities, with no bottom limit to the wage. That law was passed in 1938.

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