Sunday, October 23, 2016
The Goodwill affiliate in Iowa City for years paid hundreds of its workers with significant disabilities less than the minimum wage, which is legal under a Depression-era federal program.
But in March, officials with the charity decided to drop the controversial practice. Now workers who were previously paid as little as $4.50 an hour are paid at least $8.39 — well above Iowa’s federal and state $7.25 minimum wage.
"We felt it was the right thing to do," said Patricia Airy, CEO of the Goodwill affiliate.
The Iowa City Goodwill is not the only organization around the country that has decided that employing the disabled in so-called "sheltered workshops" has passed its time.
However, federal records indicate 61 other Goodwill affiliates nationally recently had active or pending certificates to employ people at less than the minimum wage. That includes Goodwill Omaha, which federal records indicate has recently employed 110 workers in its program.
The payment of such low wages comes as Goodwill Omaha and many other Goodwill affiliates pay their CEOs lucrative salaries, including more than $400,000 a year for Omaha CEO Frank McGree.
McGree and Goodwill Omaha officials declined to be interviewed for this series. In the past, the nonprofit and other Goodwill officials nationally have defended what they call the "special minimum wage" program, saying it gives opportunities to severely disabled people who otherwise would not work at all.
"Furthermore, they would be denied the tangible and intangible benefits of work: independence, participation, dignity, self-esteem and sense of accomplishment, among others," reads a 2013 statement from Goodwill Industries International.
However, numerous organizations supporting people with disabilities are fighting the program, saying that it’s discriminatory, exploitative and degrading. They cite cases where some workers have been paid less than $1 an hour for their labors.