Not So Goodwill: Charity Pays Some Disabled Workers Under $1 Per Hour

by
Owen Poindexter
America, it looks like we need a new stock charity, because new revelations have shown that Goodwill uses a legal loophole to pay its disabled workers less than minimum wage.
goodwill, labor, minimum wage
Goodwill seems to have lost all of its good will overnight, based on revelations around what they pay some of their disabled workers. PHOTO: Jim Henderson, CC license
 
"Don't throw those clothes away! Give them to Goodwill!"
"We're going to do a big clothing swap, and whatever doesn't get taken, we'll just give to Goodwill."
"No one I know would want this, but I guess I could give it to Goodwill."
 
America, it looks like we need a new stock charity, because new revelations have shown that Goodwill uses a legal loophole to pay its disabled workers less than minimum wage. In some cases, they make under a dollar an hour. This isn't in an impoverished country either, this is in the United States. A section of the Fair Labor Standards Act, instituted just before World War II, allows employers to obtain a "special minimum wage certificate," and then they can pay workers below minimum wage. Disabled workers can be paid "according to their abilities," with no floor on their hourly earnings. NBC reported that workers in Pennsylvania in 2011 received as little as 22, 38 and 41 cents per hour. That's not enough for a cheap lunch after a full day of work, and any transportation costs would nullify those wages.
 
Adding insult to injury, Goodwill executives bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, with their CEO taking in around $750,000.
 
One can almost imagine the rationale for the provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act in times without our level of wealth disparity, with few corporations the Goliaths we have now and without the scourge of offshore banking anything close to what we have now (need a book? Pick up Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson). There may have been a population of disabled people who couldn't compete with other potential employees at the same wage rate, but could work for less than that and bring in some grocery money. That's probably a charitable speculation, but it's at least possible that that was true in the  1930s and 40s. Today, minimum wage is barely a living wage in the U.S., and it may be less than a living wage depending on where one lives.
 
Even if it is worthwhile to have some kind of arrangement by which workers can earn less than the current minimum wage (I'm skeptical, but I'd listen to that argument), we still need a higher floor. Making 40 cents an hour in the U.S. is essentially working for free.

The outrage spawned by this practice, and the renewed attention its getting may lead to the provision getting struck down. It's up to the public now to make enough noise about this so that it actually happens.

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