Re: Goodwill takes heat over wages

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I’m writing to present the perspective of local advocates for people with disabilities. I appreciate that your story included comment from Chris Danielsen of the National Federation of the Blind.

For 73 years, the NFB has been the leading catalyst for change in the area of civil rights, rehabilitation and employment of people with disabilities. I appreciate that you researched and printed the views of other organizations that employ people with disabilities here.

I was not surprised to learn that most do not have or use the Department of Labor’s 14(c) waiver from, which allows nonprofits and corporations to pay individuals based on that organization’s unverifiable internal appraisal of productivity.

There are 45 disabled-worker organizations that support HR 3086, legislation that seeks to terminate the waiver and end the practice of sub-minimum wage pay.

The number of organizations that have voluntarily stopped using the waiver continues to grow as they realize it is truly a matter of nurturing, training, job reengineering, empowerment and transparency.

I have asked local Goodwill CEO Karla Grazier to clarify her justification for use of the waivers and sub-minimum wage pay, with no substantial response.

The NFB also has asked repeatedly for permission to offer a presentation to the Goodwill board of directors. There has been no response.

The local Goodwill administration’s only response is clearly taken from a page of their talking points, which have been distributed to all Goodwill affiliates by their national headquarters, the CEO of which makes $500,000 per year.

Take a look at the websites of Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado and see for yourself how much the local Goodwill CEO is paid and compare it to the Goodwill workers who receive sub-minimum wages.

Goodwill’s management is fully aware that I have asked colleagues and constituents to communicate with Goodwill in order to reach an understanding and avoid moving full speed ahead with protests, letters to the media and boycotts.

They know we seek respectful dialogue and that we desire to understand the unique needs of the population they are chartered to serve.

Local Goodwill spokesman Bradd Hafer described in great detail those who are judged as not productive enough to earn the minimum wage.

He said, “The 47 individuals who earn less than minimum wage have multiple and severe physical and intellectual disabilities that significantly hinder their ability to perform their jobs — including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, Down syndrome and autism.”

Most people in our community are very aware of the population Goodwill serves, but I suppose he thought it was important to delineate the terrible burden and difficult circumstance faced by Goodwill, and to be sure to adequately pull the public’s heartstrings.

In addition, he has helped fuel the fear of employees and the families of employees who are paid less than minimum wage.

Goodwill loves to promote the notion that if these “poor unfortunates” must be paid fairly, others will lose jobs. This is a fear tactic. It is not credible. It is ludicrous.

What Hafer neglected to say is:

1. Goodwill receives federal subsidies; 2. Goodwill receives long term non-compete government contracts; 3. Goodwill receives millions in philanthropic donations; 4. Goodwill is chartered to empower the disabled population; 5. Goodwill is supposed to have the expertise to train and employ disabled people.

Our patience is growing thin. We are gaining momentum at the national level. More than 3,000 people opposed to these pay practices will attend a convention June 30 in Dallas to confirm our strategy. At least a dozen of us from Colorado Springs will be there.

If Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado does not respond to our inquiries and refuses to grant us an audience with the board, then I am certain this boycott will advance to a higher level of effectiveness, despite the fact that this is not our desire.

Goodwill is a well-respected venerable institution. Its stature in the community is without question. I am personally acquainted with a number of board members, employees and administrators, as well as families who are served by Goodwill.

However, Goodwill is on the wrong side of history. They defend the status quo. The purposed federal legislation would allow a several-year phase-in. This would allow Goodwill to adopt a more progressive model of employment and empowerment.

Finally, and I believe this is of extraordinary importance, our collective action is designed to raise awareness. It is designed to bring about important social change. It is in no way intended to impugn the character or capacity of the board of directors and others who bring heart and commitment to what they do. We honor the volunteers, the employees, and the board of directors.

Nevertheless, those mentioned above are the ones who could immediately make this problem go away.

Kevan Worley is President of the Blind Merchants Association.

See the original story here.