I used to despise this song, in fact, I kind of still do, but now, thanks to a running joke, I can't resist following along, every time it comes on
Even though I may be jammin', in reality, I want to make a couple of things very clear. First, I am aware of the race and class politics that overwhelmingly result from a statement like this. Secondly, I will make it known that you will not, in fact, find me in the Uptons, or in any other section, for that matter.
Why, you ask?
$0.22/hour. That's why.
This is the wage paid to some disabled workers at Goodwill stores across the country, for various duties such as sorting, hanging, and stocking clothes and donations. Although wages vary by state and region, the list of wages that are pennies on the hour is staggering.
But, isn't that illegal?
No, thanks to a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act, from all the way back in 1938. This provision, originally meant to provide jobs for disabled veterans returning from World War II, basically allows employers to pay these employees on a production-based scale using a percentage of minimum wage. The idea was that it could be an incentive for employers to get cheap labor, while thinking that these employees might not be as efficient, and therefore should receive lower pay. The intentions sound good, right?
But what I don't understand is that now that the laws have changed to guarantee minimum wage, which is today often over $8 an hour, to every other American, why is there still this exception being made? I can understand if a whole company were based on this production model, but this only applies to a certain group of employees. And what's more, Goodwill, like most multimillion dollar corporations can probably afford to pay ALL of their workers a fair wage, even by production model standards. Now, I'm no economics major, so maybe somebody can help me out here, according to a 2011 annual report linked here, almost $3 billion was given out in wages to 189,000 employees nationwide. With the math I just did, this falls well below the minimum wage requirement for anyone. It did say that employee about 64,000 people that had “trouble finding jobs”, which may or may not be people with disabilities. No exact figure was given here, I'm still looking. Based on the percentages, I'm trying to figure out exactly what percentage is used for wages, using this tutorial. Being a nonprofit organization, it does not appear to be much, according to this which is understandable, and yet, the CEO continues to make close to $500,000 a year in most regions. Here is another article about this.
The idea to run these types of programs comes from what is known as a sheltered workshop, basically a place where disabled people are employed separately from others, in order to gain vocational skills and sometimes social experience. People who end up in these programs often stay there for a very long time, contrary to the belief of being just a first “stepping stone ” to more gainful employment. It is often believed that there is no alternative for many people who work here, because there is a “who would hire them?” kind of mentality. Therefore, a lot of these organizations basically have a bunch of volunteers, but call it a job. Because many businesses do not find the value in employing people with disabilities, a lot of the skills we do have are overlooked, regardless of what our disability is.
Some parents and families argued that these places change their children's lives, and that they are happy working there, adding a sense of personal fulfillment in their lives. While that is great, I wonder how fulfilled they are when they realize they can't even buy a pack of gum for their efforts. I've heard that some people justify this because people just “don't understand” that they are earning a living, so they don't care. Meanwhile, that person can't even afford to use the public transit to get to work.
Below is a video that aired on NBC's Rock Center documenting this issue
I believe that individuals deserve more credit than they are often given. People who defend these practices by saying that providing gainful employment is depriving somebody of their choice to earn a living clearly do not understand today's standard of living. I think this issue, not just with Goodwill, but other businesses as well, merits awareness because many people and businesses don't realize what could actually be added to the workforce if the talents and skills of disabled workers were utilized, and they were treated like every other citizen in this country. We have goals, too!
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) started a petition on Change.org to stop the payment of subminimum wages to disabled workers. I hope you'll sign it. I did.
Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/FairLaborStandAct.pdf