Last month there was a nationwide protest against the Goodwill for paying people with disabilities less than the minimum wage. This was an effort orchestrated by the National Federation of the Blind (of which I am a board member for the Metro Atlanta chapter) to raise awareness of this despicable practice and advocate for change. In the Atlanta area members of the NFB, Atlanta and Georgia ADAPT, People First and disABILITY LINK joined in and helped spread the word and cover all the retail locations we could. Since that day I have encountered variations on a couple of questions: “you’re not being paid less than minimum wage, so why were you out there in the first place?” The fact that people could ask that is the reason that I’m out there. To think that anyone would find it acceptable to have a “special wage” for people with disabilities makes me sick. I, along with my colleagues, were out there for those that couldn’t make it, to fight for a better working future for people with disabilities and to let people know that this practice exists (many of the people we spoke to were unaware of this).
Another commonly heard item was, “this location doesn’t pay less than minimum wage, so why are you here?” (this was something several groups heard from store managers and employees, primarily). Even though the Metro Atlanta/North Georgia locations don’t currently pay subminimum wages now, there is nothing to stop them from implementing them down the road. Put simply, we want to change the system not just individual locations; the company embraces this practice and people should be aware of that so they can be informed consumers. This problem is also bigger than just the Goodwill, there are hundreds of places that have this authorization. The Goodwill just happens to have a person in charge making $500,000 a year and who also just happens to be blind and the Goodwill just happens to have had some of the worst of the wages found. Once again, this problem goes beyond the Goodwill straight to DC where this discriminatory practice against people with disabilities began. We need section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act repealed, we need to be respected for the work that we do and we need for there to be opportunities for us to have meaningful and gainful employment. It is 2012 an absolutely nobody should be forced to work for less than the minimum wage. It is unacceptable.
When questioned on why I care and why I was out there I simply like to ask: “would you work for 20 cents an hour? Would you want a family member or loved one to work for 20 cents an hour?”