I know that I’ve posted before about Goodwill’s practice practice of paying its disabled workers next to nothing. but it all bears repeating.
Content Note: Ableism, sheltered workshop, sub-minimum wage, discrimination
Image Description: A drawing of a hand, white, at the end of an arm wearing an aqua suit with cuffs of a white dress peeking out at the wrist, dangles a bill of indeterminate worth (aqua with a dollar sign in a white circle centred on it) over two figures who jump and grab for it. They are wearing grey blazers, black pants and orange ties, and we can’t see their faces. They cast black shadows on an orange floors. The background is light grey.
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.