Is it still considered charity if Goodwill Industries only pays some of its employees 22 cents an hour? In Goodwill’s view, yes: They could be making nothing.
In a payroll decision that’s ideologically complex at best, Goodwill Industries outlets in Pennsylvania used a 75-year-old labor law loophole to pay disabled employees as little as 22, 38 and 41 cents per hour in 2011.
As NBC News discovered, a 1938 law known as the Special Wage Certificate Program allows charities and companies to get special certificates from the Department of Labor that permits them to pay disabled workers based on their abilities, with no minimum.
At the time, it was a means of encouraging companies to hire workers with disabilities. With Goodwill International paying chief executive Jim Gibbons $729,000 in salary and deferred compensation in 2011, that makes Goodwill’s wages for disabled employees seem as cheap as the broken keyboards and old pairs of Velcro sneakers on its stores’ racks.
Gibbons doesn’t see it that way, however, defending Goodwill’s wage program in a Huffington Post column earlier this year and addressing critics on the site again Friday.
“For young people with the most significant disabilities, the Special Minimum Wage Certificate means the difference between reaching their personal employment potential and having no job at all,” he wrote.
More than 216,000 workers are eligible to earn less than minimum wage under the current law, though many end up earning the full federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. While it’s true that the employment rate for Americans age 20-24 with disabilities is only 32%, according to the Department of Labor, that doesn’t mean Goodwill’s disabled employees are particularly happy with their reduced rate.
“If they really do pay the CEO of Goodwill three-quarters of a million dollars, they certainly can pay me more than they’re paying,” Harold Leigland, who is legally blind and hangs clothes at a Goodwill in Great Falls, Mont., for less than minimum wage, told NBC News.