Sunday, 7 July 2013

Revisiting The Goodwill Controversy: Slave Wages Aren't Cool

I know that I've posted about it before, but it all bears repeating. After viewing this video about Goodwill, I'm all fired up.

The issue is that Goodwill employs 7000-8000 disabled people in America who, due to a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, legally don't have to be paid minimum wage. And Goodwill takes advantage of this - some disabled employees get  paid as little as $0.22 an hour. It's all documented.

Goodwill operates sheltered workshops for its disabled employees. Regular readers will know that I'm not a fan of sheltered workshops for a variety of reasons: they promote exclusion and segregation, they pigeonhole people into performing certain types of tasks, they encourage society to  of the work of disabled people, and they're environments in which it's difficult even for staff to assist the people they support to reach their full potential. Goodwill's operation is a particularly good support for the idea of totally abolishing sheltered workshops, in my opinion (one that's shared by the head of the National Federation of the Blind, Mark Maurer, interviewed in the video).

Goodwill and Employment Discrimination: The Thing Is...

Head of Goodwill International Jim Gibbons is disabled himself, so you'd think that he'd understand these issues. But he's got it all worked out in his head about why the sheltered workshop model works for Goodwill and its disabled employees, including reasoning for why a company that could afford to pay him half a million dollars last year and that could afford to pay other executives similarly hefty salaries (including $1.1 million dollars in salary and deferred compensation to the CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southern California in 2011) shouldn't feel badly about paying some of the company's disabled employees less than a quarter an hour.

In the video, Gibbons spoke about people having the right to define success for themselves, about how everything at Goodwill is focused on the workers and "their strengths, their skills, and their abilities" and went on to comment, about Goodwill's disabled employees: "It's typically not about their livelihood. It's about their fulfillment. It's about being a part of something, and it's probably a small part of their overall program."

Gibbons wasn't talking like he was the head of a company whose management model includes large-scale use of sheltered workshops. The language that he was using, about being committed to having disabled in an employment environment that uses their strengths, skill sets and abilities, is the language of the much more progressive person-centred approach to support.

It pisses me off that Jim Gibbons has appropriated this language to describe what's going on in Goodwill (all suggestions appear to be that it's not). It makes me feel sick to my stomach that he's twisted it to imply that the people who are questioning his discriminatory employment practices are the bad guys, because everyone has the right to define success for themselves and for most of his disabled employees their take-home pay isn't their measure of their success as a Goodwill employee.

Meet Me at Camera Three, Mr. Gibbons

Mr. Gibbons, you made $729 000 in 2011 Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you worked 50 hours a week. That's $280 an hour.

The employee that works 40 hours a week at $0.22 an hour has to work almost 32 weeks to make what you make in an hour, as opposed to 1 week at the $7.25 that non-disabled Americans get for the work that they do.

It's easiest to abuse the people who don't know that they're worth more than the treatment they're getting, don't know that anything better exists, or who don't have the resources (which more often than not require money) to help them to get out of a bad situation. You take people who already are at high risk of living in poverty, some of whom have never had a job, some who are desperate to be employed in a society where they can't find work (or both), and you exploit economic need and the desperation for employment by paying them slave wages - and then have the nerve to twist it into, "But look how much good we do for them, and how committed we are to them."

Some will stay because they don't feel that they have a choice, even though they feel trapped and unhappy. But others will stay because they simply don't realize what's being done to them - that for (not enough, but many) people, having a job means that they get paid enough of a wage to meet their basic needs as well as having work to do that they like each day. They've never had a job that was like that.

That's not making the community a better place. That's being a huge part of the problem.
And until you start to become part of the solution, Goodwill will not get my support again.

Goodwill is a tax-exempt, non-profit business that brings in over five billion dollars a year AND that gets hundreds of million dollars a year in American government funding. They're supposed to be helping communities. Use your power as a consumer and make them accountable for the promises that they make, starting with how they treat the most socially vulnerable of their employees.

More about the Brian Williams video:

Jim Gibbons has responded to critics of Goodwill's employment practices here:

Goodwill's full statement:


  1. I worked for GW at the time of my stroke. They "loved" that fact that I was the best cashier at getting cash donations at the register. After my stroke they said they could hold my job for 3 months if I could come back & perform the SAME duties (pushing huge full clothing racks, putting clothes away across the store and getting back up front by 3 rings, etc.). When that didn't happen, they terminated my job saying they would hire me back when "I was ready"!

    The problem? Even though I kept hearing what a wonderful cashier I was, they told me I could not have a stool at the register. I could not use my rolling walker. Etc, etc. etc.....

    Bottom line: I found Goodwill's promotion of "putting people back to work", especially disabled, a GIANT FARCE!

  2. Tiniree, that's terrible.

    One more reason for me to never darken Goodwill's door again.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Goodwill Inc is a living testament to the fact that involuntary servitude is alive and well in the USA. Slavery thrives; we've just exchanged race for disability...the stories are nonetheless the same. To have an organization which pretends to serve the poor screw the disabled and evaluate productivity through a time study is simply immoral. I would be harsher but this is a public blog so I need to tame my tendency for extreme profanity.....

  4. I think you said this much better than me, Sarah. (I attached my link below) My feeling is that I've donated household goods and used clothing to Goodwill because they employed individuals with disabilities. Not to make some middle or upper managers wealthy. Lindsey did work for Goodwill in the 90s. Here is my mixed-feelings take on this unfortunate situation (I hope yo don't mind me sharing):

  5. My daughter with special needs worked for Goodwill in the 90s. She was considered an excellent employee. She was suckered into leaving when she was 20 by a local predator. Since she quit without giving notice, Goodwill would not consider hiring her back. EVER. I thought that was odd since they work with people who are vulnerable. Many, like my daughter, have mental challenges. I thought GW could be a bit more tolerant in their policies. But like you, the answer was NO EXCEPTIONS. Thanks for making me realize we weren't alone in our struggles with GW.

  6. Linda, make that two more reasons!

  7. Yeah, I get it, Phil...I said a few choice words myself as I was watching that video. This is yet another reason that I'm skeptical that your government has any intention (or ever has) of doing anything to help disabled people - it would be so easy to close that legal loophole that's allowing this to happen...there was even talk of them doing it last year...but no further action that I've heard of.

  8. I don't mind a bit, Linda. Thank you for sharing it. :)

  9. Nisha Benny-Varghese12 July 2013 at 20:44

    Shocking how the Goodwill treats it's employees turns out there's not much good about the Goodwill

  10. i worked at goodwill industries for 34 days at 1235 south eugene street in greensboro n.c. vocational rehabilitation referred decmber 1984 they wanted me to work at industrial services of guilford at 4009 wendover avenue in greensboron.c. i didi not want to work there sarah you're right slave wages aren't cool the fair labor standards act of 1938 section 14c is out dated and should be abolished goodwill industries uses it as a legal loophole is a disgrace to disabled and non disabled workers .22/hour it's not legal the 1930's wage law is outdated they deserve $7.25/hour or more i know i made only $1.00/hour my total pay ? $335.10 i quit

  11. Tim, thank you for sharing this. I'm sorry that you went through what you did. I just hope that the government soon sees how unfair all this is and rewrites the legislation that allows companies like Goodwill to treat people this way. Thank you for commenting.

  12. If its REALLY not about the money, but "just being apart of something", how about the CEOs getting the $.22 & pay the handicapped $280 per hour?

  13. the ceos of goodwill industries deserve nothing at how about zero cents per hour give the disabled 280.00 or more per hourjim gibbons you should be ashamed of your self why don't you volunteer at a homeless shelter and see how the other1% lives better yet why don't you live at the homeless shelter and hold a card board sign that reads homeless got demoted working for .22 cents hour slave driver