My time is worth something. There, I said it. It’s something that more people with disabilities should be saying too. The National Federation of the Blind recently came out in support of a boycott of the Goodwill, a very popular and widespread non-profit organization. Despite their name Goodwill is paying many people with disabilities less than minimum wage. In a recent news piece it was documented that one individual, who happened to be deaf, was being paid $1.44 an hour. If an employer offers to pay less than minimum wage, what does that tell you? To me, it says they don’t value your work, time or the effort that goes into arranging transportation and scheduling your time to to come in and be a productive member of the work environment. Essentially, they don’t value you as a person.
Some will argue that Goodwill is within their rights to offer subminimum wages to their employees with disabilities; after all, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the reason they can legally offer that. And that is true, it is legal to offer subminimum wages to people that are considered to have a “severe disability.” But is it ethical? The provision in the FLSA that allows this is outdated and needs to be removed entirely, exempting people with disabilities from earning a minimum wage is no way to support us in being contributing members of the workforce. You are presented what the National Federation of the Blind has called “false choices.” You can either: a) take the pittance you are offered or b) remain unemployed.
Job hunting is stressful. It is even more so for people with disabilities. We fear being rejected based on our disability, and even sometimes are (although, you’ll never get that admission from a potential employer). Imagine you’ve been job hunting for months with several rejections or non-responses. You’re approaching the threshold, or maybe have exceeded the threshold of being unemployed so long you are deemed “unemployable” (because we need to worry about being discriminated against for being long term unemployed as wel as being discriminated against based on our disability). You finally get a job offer! But, then they are not even offering minimum wage. What do you do? Take it for the experience (since it probably won’t pay the rent)? It’s a tough decision, and it shouldn’t be a decision we even have to make. We are valuable, our time is valuable and it’s time that employers realized that.