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05/20/2013 03:52 pm ET

Goodwill Exploits Workers With Disabilities, Report Claims


Is the wage Goodwill pays its employees with disabilities exploitative or empowering?

Investigative journalist John Hrabe recently reported for Watchdog.org that Goodwill pays some of its employees less than minimum wage, when some of its executive team makes more than $1 million -- a practice he calls out as unfair.

Goodwill pays some of its employees with disabilities under the provision called The Special Wage Certificate program. The program allows an employer to pay a person with disabilities below minimum wage when performance is affected. About 7,300 of its 30,000 employees with disabilities receive these adjusted wages, Brad Turner-Little, Director of Mission Strategy at Goodwill Industries International, told HuffPost Live.

Jim Gibbons, Goodwill CEO, addressed Hrabe's concerns in a recent HuffPost blog, arguing that the provision creates job opportunities for people with disabilities that wouldn't otherwise exist:

"While some have called for this program to be eliminated, let's be clear about exactly what that would mean. It would mean that many hard-working people would be out of their jobs. It would mean that even more than 80 percent of people with disabilities would be out of work."

One of the issues Hrabe takes issue with the most is the disparity in pay. 17 Goodwill entities reported executive compensation in excess of $1 million per year. In 2011, the lowest paid Goodwill worker earned $1.40 per hour, he reported.

Turner-Little pointed out that employees with disabilities receiving these low wages make decisions out of their own free will.

"For our employees paid under the special minimum wage certificate, it's about choice," he told HuffPost Live. "They have the opportunity, We regularly assess whether they want to explore other vocational opportunities either inside of goodwill or outside of goodwill and people choose to stay."

Chris Danielsen, Director of Public Relations for the National Federation of the Blind, told HuffPost Live he believes the provision is outdated and that more mainstream opportunities for people with disabilities need to be implemented.

"The problem we have is that there are low expectations of disabled people. We have had people with disabilities working in the mainstream workforce. This provision isn't needed anymore."

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