Goodwill stores in Pennsylvania are employing some disabled workers at rates of 22, 38, and 41 cents per hour, according to NBC News. These workers are being exploited via the federal law called the Special Wage Certificate Program, which permits nonprofits and companies to obtain a certificate that allows them to hire disabled workers “based on their abilities” at whatever wage they find appropriate, with no minimum. According to the company, less than 7 percent of its workforce is paid through this certificate.
Workers say they find that the minute pay diminishes the experience and that the paychecks are useless for even covering the cost to get to work, as one worker told NBC after her wages were decreased to $2.75. For those making cents on the hour, they might as well be volunteering.
Brad Turner-Little, Goodwill’s director of mission strategy, told The Huffington Post that workers’ pay is determined through a review process that assesses their productivity and other factors. This process, as described by NBC News, times how long it takes a worker to perform a given task. The completion time is then compared to the time it would take a work without a disability to complete the task. They then calculate the worker’s wage. The time studies are a requirement of the special certificate and “Goodwill does these time studies to comply with federal law,” a spokesperson for the company told ThinkProgress.
The company argues that these disabled workers would otherwise not be employed and should therefore be grateful for any amount they earn, even if it is 22 cents. “While Goodwill supports reforms to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, eliminating this program would harm – not help – people with significant and multiple disabilities,” it said in a statement.
Some workers told NBC News that they found the review process to be biased toward whether or not the store wants their wages to be higher or lower. Furthermore, workers described the timed test as degrading and stressful.
Meanwhile, Goodwill International CEO Jim Gibbons made $729,000 in salary and deferred compensation with no test to determine his “productivity.” The CEOs of Goodwill franchises across the U.S. collectively earned $30 million, according to NBC. Turner-Little, however, assured the Huffington Post that local Goodwill organizations make independent determinations about what to pay their executives based on what they need to recruit “good talent.”
As described in a Watchdog.org report, Goodwill is a multi-billion dollar business that, in part, makes its profits on the backs of the underpaid disabled workers. However, because Goodwills are independent franchises, not every store pays its disabled workers below minimum wage nor pays its CEO such high salaries.
The exploitation of disabled workers is not a rare occurrence in the U.S. Recently, a vocational school in Rhode Island forced its mentally disabled students to work in sweatshops for 50 cents to $2 an hour and, when they graduated, were put in adult programs that also paid abysmally.
In May, a federal judge ruled that a Texas company must pay $240 million to 32 disabled workers for neglect and abuse. Workers were both physically and mentally abused for over 40 years at the company and housed in squalor conditions.
This post has been updated with information provided by a Goodwill spokesperson.
Kirsten Gibson is an intern for ThinkProgress.