The National Federation of the Blind in the United States has called for people to boycott Goodwill Industries International. This story actually broke about ten days ago, so many of you likely already know about it.
The Issues Behind the Call to Boycott Goodwill Industries
The issue around the call to boycott Goodwill Industries is that the National Federation of the Blind had discovered that Goodwill had been paying some of its workers with disabilities significantly below minimum wage – as low as $1.44 an hour. Apparently it’s permitted to do this through a nearly 75-year-old provision of the US Fair Labor Standards Act. The National Federation of the Blind is seeking to have this provision repealed, supported by 45 other organizations in the United States. But it’s taking more immediate action through the call to boycott Goodwill Industries.
I hope that they can find some way to get it into legislation that people with disabilities have to be paid minimum wage. I know that from watching the struggle in Ontario to get businesses to pay people with intellectual disabilities minimum wage that until recently, success has varied from region to region and business to business. Especially in towns made up of mostly small businesses that don’t have a corporate policy dictating hiring practices and may not have a lot of money to spare.
Work is Work and Employees are Employees. Period.
I’ve seen people with intellectual disabilities do a lot of different kinds of work. People I’ve worked with have cleaned tables and taken out the trash in restaurants, stocked shelves in grocery stores, done cleaning in a variety of establishments, answered phones for businesses, and even started their own businesses like walking dogs and doing housekeeping.
Sometimes in those days (as it is now), it was appropriate for someone with a disability to go do a job and charge a flat rate for their services. I remember working with a woman who got $15 a week from a local business to come do their cleaning each week. It took her about hour. That was reasonable compensation for her time and effort.
However, in those days I also saw people with intellectual disabilities go into businesses to help out with activities that were required to keep the business running, such as facing shelves, and not get paid or get paid very little. That’s not appropriate or fair. The employees were expected to face shelves. Having someone do it freed up their time to do other things. That made the work that these people with intellectual did an important part of store work, for which they should have been compensated properly (at the minimum wage)…even if it was the only thing they did as an employee and even if they did it for only an hour a week.
Yeah, I’m Taking This Personally
Those days weren’t so long ago…but it’s gotten a lot better. The tide’s turned quickly on this one (at least in Canada, and at least from what I can see). I’m really grateful that it’s gotten easier for people with intellectual disabilities to earn a decent wage.
But am I offended by this type of nonsense coming from Goodwill Industries? You bet I am. I’ve focused on intellectual disabilities so far, but everything that I’ve read about Goodwill Industries’ discrimination has been about people with disabilities in general. And I’m a person with disabilities.
Goodwill Industries, Meet Me at Camera Three
Hi Goodwill. As a person with disabilities, I’m really insulted that you think that my time and energy is worth so much less to you than those of a person without disabilities. I’m angry that you think it’s okay to pay me slave wages because I have a disability. And I’m furious that you think it’s okay to contribute to the further social devaluement and hardship of a group that’s already socially and economically vulnerable.
I’m not naive enough to think that this sort of thing still doesn’t happen. But, considering what you do, you were one of the last organizations that I would have suspected of doing it.
You’ve got a lot of damage repair to do. Better get on it.
For Readers Outside the US: I can’t find any information about Goodwill’s hiring practices in other countries, or whether advocacy organizations in other countries are supporting the boycott to ban Goodwill Industries. Does anyone have any information?
More about the call to boycott Goodwill Industries: