National blind group targets Goodwill on low pay issue
by Lindsay Field
lfield@mdjonline.com
August 29, 2012 12:32 AM | 2390 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SMYRNA — Although the Goodwill of North Georgia insists it doesn’t pay less than minimum wage to any of its employees, the National Federation of the Blind held an informational protest at the Smyrna Goodwill store and other locations on Saturday.

Garrick Scott, Georgia president of the NFB since 2011, said protests were organized to inform citizens about a rule within the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that allows companies to pay those with disabilities less than minimum wage and receive work credit.

“We find in some cases people can make on average 22 cents per hour,” he said, pointing out that Goodwill Industries International’s President and CEO Jim Gibbons is also blind and is making around $500,000 a year.

Informational protests were held nationwide but locally at four metro Atlanta Goodwill locations, in Tucker, Smyrna, downtown Atlanta at the Goodwill corporate office, and Buckhead, and three other locations in middle and south Georgia.

About 35 people stood in front of each location passing out flyers and telling people about the act.

This is the second protest the NFB has held on the issue. In summer 2011, they marched at the office of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-east Cobb) to encourage him not to vote to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which contains language authorizes paying workers with disabilities below the federal minimum wage.

Elaine Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Goodwill of North Georgia, said none of their employees earn less than minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

“Our Goodwills do not have this,” she said. “All of our employees start at least minimum wage and work their way up.”

Armstrong said there are about 3,000 other organizations and businesses nationwide that do pay their employees less than minimum wage but they have a special minimum wage certificate that is “aimed at helping people with significant disabilities find their way into employment when they traditionally might not have been able to find a job.”

Goodwill of North Georgia employs about 2,000 people in the 45-county region, at 41 stores and about 60 donation centers.

Scott, of the National Federation of the Blind, said the boycott was for all Goodwill locations nationwide.

“The reputation goes to the extent of all of them,” he said.

Anil Lewis, an Atlanta native who works for the blind organization’s national office said, “Goodwill continues to prey on society’s misperception that people with disabilities do not have the capacity to be productive employees. The thing that bothers me, if you believe that, then why do you continue to work with them? Regardless of disability, a person can be productively employed.”

Lewis said the National Federation of the Blind’s goal is to pass U.S. House Bill 30-86 to repeal Section 14-C of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guarantees a minimum wage.

“I’m optimistic … we will be pushing it through the lame duck session (between November and January 2013),” he added. “The writing on the wall is that this gets to be less and less of an issue.”

His organization has 81 sponsors and 50 organizations supporting the effort, he said, and if the bill passes, there will be a three-year phase out timeline for companies to implement it.

Brad Turner-Little, the director of mission strategy with Goodwill Industries International, was not sure how long his organization had applied for the special minimum wage certificate but said, “Goodwill has a long history of supporting and creating employment for individuals with disabilities … the policies around our workforce really support that.”

He said about 30 percent of their employees, or roughly 30,000 individuals, have disabilities and that a “much smaller” subset of that figure is employees hired under the certificate.

“We use the certificate as a tool to create work for those individuals and also provide other types of support and services, socialization activities, transportation activities, sometimes physical or emotional therapies,” he said. “Goodwill believes that the special minimum wage certificate is ‘a’ tool, not ‘the’ tool.”
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