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Disability

Goodwill Paying Workers with Disabilities Subminimum Wages

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by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Rock Center with Brian Williams, NBC’s newsmagazine show, broadcasted a segment about the subminimum wages paid to workers with disabilities at Goodwill.   Most of you are familiar with Goodwill being the place where you can exchange your gently used items & clothing for secondhand goods priced reasonably low.  Goodwill was founded in 1902 in Boston by Rev. Edgar J. Helms, who was a Methodist minister and social innovator.  Since its creation, Goodwill has grown into a multi-billion dollar non-profit organization business, serving communities throughout the United States.

Rock Center’s segment aimed to shine a light on the unbelievably low wages that some workers with disabilities are receiving for their hard work with the organization.  The segment’s host, Harry Smith, interviewed several disability advocates and leaders; Goodwill’s International CEO Jim Gibbons, who is visually-impaired; and current and former workers of Goodwill.

The segment explained how Goodwill’s ability to pay workers with disabilities incredibly low wages is even legal.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 is the policy that allows this low-wage paying loophole to be legal in this country.  FLSA applies to industries whose combined employment represented only about one-fifth of the labor force. In these industries, it banned oppressive child labor and set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and the maximum workweek at 44 hours.  The section of FLSA that Goodwill is using to its advantage to pay workers with disabilities as little as $0.22 in some cases is Section 14(c).  Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage through special wage certificates issued by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

You may be wondering, how does Section 14(c) negatively affect workers with disabilities?  Here is how:  Subminimum wages keep many workers with disabilities in poverty their entire lives.  Most will never be in the position to leave sheltered workshops.  The inability to leave such institutions prevents those with disabilities who are capable of living independently from having the opportunity to do so.  This inability to gain independence further perpetuates the vicious cycle of people with disabilities feeling “trapped” and forced to rely on government and state services when they are more than willing and capable, of being productive and self-sufficient members in society.

Though there have been recent efforts made by the U.S. Justice Department to fight this practice, which have led to changes in Oregon and Rhode Island, these actions by the Justice Department are not enough to ensure that workers with disabilities in all 50 states are being paid the federal minimum wage amount for the quality of work they do.

What truly outraged me is the fact that Goodwill is paying workers with disabilities under $2 an hour, but their regional CEOs are receiving six-figured salaries.  Goodwill’s International CEO, Jim Gibbons, who also receives a six-figured salary, made the comment that for some workers, the joy of working and having the opportunity to work is more important than what they are actually being paid.  That statement struck a hard nerve with me.  Though some workers (those who were interviewed for the segment) may not be outraged about what they are being paid, the fact remains that they should be receiving equal pay for equal work as their able-bodied workers at Goodwill.

My perception of his comment (and others who support Section 14(c)) is this:  people with disabilities should accept such mistreatment when it comes to unequal pay because few organizations would provide them with the opportunity to work, especially individuals who have severe disabilities.  That kind of attitude is can be perceived as disrespectful, disempowering, and despicable.  It is erroneous for organizations like Goodwill and for society   to believe that people with disabilities should be content with receiving mere crumbs; we are not second-class citizens who should settle for just “anything” because there may not be many employment options available.  That kind of attitude can cause an individual to feel inferior and believe that they are not worthy of equal treatment as someone who is able-bodied.  Though FLSA was created in 1938, this is not the 1930s when people with disabilities did not have the opportunities to work, attend school, and be fully independent.  People with disabilities represent the largest minority group in the United States, with over 50 million members; and the world, with over 1 billion members – we cannot, and most importantly, should not, be complacent with any kind of policy that grossly disadvantages members of our subgroup from becoming independent and having the ability to earn a decent wage as everyone else.

This story truly angered me, and my first course of action was to write this article about the segment and my thoughts.  My second course of action will be to research how Goodwill is paying workers with disabilities in the state of South Carolina, and how I can advocate for equal pay for equal work, if such wage disparities exist.  It is truly disturbing that we live in 2013 and individuals who put in the same amount of hours and hard work as their able-bodied peers are earning less than a dollar.  I know that I cannot sit back and fail to be proactive in creating equality for people with disabilities when it comes to employment opportunities.

Tell me, what are you prepared to do in your respective states to ensure that all people are earning a fair wage for their hard work, regardless of ability?

Whatever career you may choose for yourself – doctor, lawyer, teacher – let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it.  Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights.  Make it a central part of your life.  It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher.  It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can.  It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man.  Make a career of humanity.  Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights.  You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

(Featured photo:  Courtesy of learningdisabilities.about.com)

2 Comments

I have always given to Goodwill. It saddens me that items given to charity to help the less fortunate are being used as 0 cost product to make Goodwill executives millions.

Allan Raymound says:

I’ve worked for Goodwill. It was the most shocking and revolting experience in my life. I had no idea the
evil that existed within such a prestigious and well though of “charity.” I acknowledge there are good and honest people who work there I understand Goodwills are operated independently. But I’ve seen enough and heard enough to conclude that Goodwill is rotten to the core. Whatever the pretense they offer, and despite a few genuine “good” deeds, this organization is driven by sheer greed!

Join us on FB search “GREEDWILL”

Disability

Colin Kaepernick and How Self Care Must Go Pro

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For years, permanently injured players have been left to figure out how they will financially support their families and how they will carry on with their lives after committing years to football. Currently, the NFL is settling numerous lawsuits from former players who claim that their disabilities resulted from injuries on the field. But that’s not the only controversy stirring in the NFL.

In Fall of 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem. At the time, many believed the media would quickly move on to another more trendy story. Afterall, he wasn’t chanting or picketing. He was simply kneeling. But as weeks passed, white anger slowly unveiled itself, and patriotism took the main stage. Critics saw Kaepernick’s quiet gesture as a radical protest. Yet, he still knelt game after game.

Kaepernick proved his physical ability early in his professional career by leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. At that time the public didn’t know that Kaepernick had a metal rod placed in his left leg prior to his rookie year. Still, he attended and did well in practices. But in 2015, he injured his left shoulder and would later report injuries to his thumb and knee.

Working with such disabilities would prove challenging to most people, particularly for professional athletes who are required to demonstrate physical grit day after day. When Kaepernick’s scoring record took a hit, questions arose as to whether he was worth his contract. But Kaepernick saw himself as more than just damaged goods. He had something else to offer: a perspective on the value of black lives in America.

By kneeling, Kaepernick demonstrated ownership of his body, a black body that has been endangered for a time that is too long to measure. That is a radical act of self-care. The concept of self-care, for a long time, was viewed as a luxury accessible to an elite few. And, self-care is publicly declaring that your life matters beyond what your performance on the football field.

In a recent interview, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy said he thinks that Kaepernick was released because he’s not a great player, not because he didn’t stand for the anthem. He added that from the perspective of a team owner, Kaepernick isn’t worth the distraction if he can’t play well. However, star quarterbacks Aaron Rogers and Cam Newton came out in support of Kaepernick. Both stated he should be starting in the NFL, but he isn’t due to his protest of the national anthem.

I’d argue that even when athletes play well, there is a general discomfort with them expressing resistance to racism. They usually are told to stick to the game, proving once again that a working, non-resistant black body is most favorable (and profitable) in this society.

The NFL has a longstanding history of utilizing bodies for financial gain, in particular, black bodies. It is a marketplace for bodies. Bodies that can be negotiated and sold and traded in the name of increasing revenue. I hear sports fans say often that certain teams don’t win because the owners ‘don’t want to spend the money’. However, Kaepernick was recently released from his contract, something for which he seemed prepared.

According to the New York Times, NFL players are becoming permanently disabled after suffering head traumas. Those injuries have caused concussions, dementia, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Now, some players’ wives have created at least one space, in the form of a private Facebook group, where they share their experiences and gain strength from each other as they become caregivers and advocates for men who once were larger than life. I believe that this generation of athletes will begin to demand more than money for play. They will demand the right to safety and self-care, and they will begin to plan for their legacies and quality of life off the field.

Athletes are human and imperfect. For many, they are heroes which must be a compliment, but it must also be a lot of pressure. This next generation of athletes will need to employ a high degree of self-care if they want to have a productive career and higher quality life after retirement.

Athletes inspire us because of their consistency and their unmatched desire to win. I’ve never met an athlete who thought second place was good enough. They want to be the best. Their drive is a metaphor for how many of us want to live our best lives.

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Disability

Hurricane Irma: Two Things Helping Professionals Need to Know About People with Disabilities

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Photo: AP

The state of Florida has called for 17,000 volunteers to help out with the post-Irma recovery process, but there’s one population that are often forgotten in the crush of storm evacuation and disaster recovery efforts, and that is people with disabilities.

Recently, at a social work conference, I was told “disability is not a social work issue,” which is a shocking statement, given that over one-fifth of the United States’ population has a disability according to the Centers for Disease Control. All too often, people with disabilities are left feeling invisible in our society – and as helping professionals, we need to right this wrong. In order to begin to do this work, especially given the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey on our country, here are two things helping professionals need to know about people with disabilities.

Storms such as Irma and Harvey are very likely to have a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities – see Professor Rabia Belt’s commentary on this topic. During Hurricane Katrina and surely many others, it came to light that many people with disabilities were unable to evacuate due to mobility limitations, equipment needs, staffing needs, requirements for service animals or just having a low income.

We know that people with disabilities are much more likely to live in poverty in this country, and this can really take a toll during storm evacuations and disaster recovery. In fact, during Katrina, 155,000 people with disabilities aged 5 and up lived in the cities hardest hit by the storm – and unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of Katrina’s fatalities involved this population. Helping professionals need to see people with disabilities – and seek them out prior to, during and after a storm.

Given these realities, it is important to design disaster preparedness and recovery efforts so that they are accessible to all – including people with disabilities in keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the disability community, stories about people with mobility limitations, nursing needs, and service animals being refused shelter or assistance are making the rounds. We must do better.

The National Council on Disability wrote an extensive report on the topic of disaster preparedness, and it provides great guidance for disaster planning and recovery efforts – be prepared! There is also specialized guidance on how to create accessible programs and spaces for people with disabilities during and after a devastating storm in a way that promotes self-determination.

People with disabilities do not want to be victims, and helping professionals should support their self-determination during evacuations, sheltering and recovery. Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies, an organization based in the southern United States, is the go-to source for assistance with people with disabilities during these storms. Please use their hotline for assistance with your clients with disabilities 1-800-626-4959.

Their motto is drawn from the disability civil rights movement, “nothing about us without us.” As you gear up to provide help before, during and after these storms, keep this motto in mind and let it guide your practice. We can do better for people with disabilities, and we will.

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Disability

A Teacher’s Response to Charlottesville for Social Workers in Practice with People with Disabilities

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Charlottesville Black Cop

Officer patrols in front of a recent KKK rally in Charlottesville, Va. – Jill Mumie

I am currently teaching a course on social work practice with people with disabilities.  The course uses an intersectional lens, acknowledging the fact that people have many intersecting social identities that can result in varying types of privilege and oppression.  As such, I had to provide some venue for my students to address the Charlottesville violence and hate speech.  The following is a discussion prompt I provided for them to respond to, and I thought other social work educators might be interested in seeing this so that they could use it and/or modify it for their own courses.  Feedback welcome!

Discussion prompt: As we are part of a course on social work practice with people with disabilities in the United States of America, I would be remiss not to address the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. As you have already likely gathered, there are important links between the White nationalist/Nazi actions in Virginia, and the work we do as social workers with people with disabilities – who often have intersecting marginalized social identities.

Many of the perspectives held by members of White nationalist/Nazi groups are clearly identifiable as racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and even Eugenic in nature.  Therefore, as social workers practicing under our particular Code of Ethics, we need to respond. If you need some quick resources to learn more about the dynamics that led to the Charlottesville rally and violence, you can check out the “Charlottesville Syllabus” at this link.

As disability-aware social workers training to view the world through an intersectional lens, we need to acknowledge and act on what has happened in Charlottesville. That means that we need to engage in discussions – often difficult in nature – with our families, our co-workers and with our clients. Let’s start with our work with clients.

One prominent disability civil rights activist, Rebecca Cokley, has noted that when terrorist incidents like this occur, people with disability count the minutes until ableist claims about the ‘crazy’ person who engaged in terrorist acts roll in. That may be an important place for you to start a conversation with a client with a disability in a week like this one. In this essay, Ms. Cokley points out another important link between disability and trauma.  She calls for the disability community (and disability service providers) to reach out to those whose disabilities came about as a result of trauma, such as the people who were injured and impaired by the car driven by the White nationalist/Nazi from Ohio. Her essay is short, easy to read and compelling and you can find it here.

It is also important to remember, however, that our work is not just direct care work. Remember, the NASW Code of Ethics states that we must fight for social justice, as it is a core value in our profession. We need to do more than discuss these difficult topics amongst ourselves, we also need to take a stand on them. I am fond of the idea that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.

It is important to move beyond ideas of ourselves as “good” people and work towards actively addressing the webs of oppression that exist in our world, little bit by little bit. Here is an example about how ADAPT, the national disability civil rights organization, has taken a stance on the events in Charlottesville. Where might you be able to stake your claim to your own stance?  Check out these ideas for 10 ways to fight hate from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Finally, I want to leave you with a challenging set of questions. Although there are many facets to the NASW Code of Ethics, let us remember that the mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values, including the idea that there is dignity and worth in every person.  How would you respond to a client with a disability who actively identified as a White nationalist/Nazi if you were to be assigned such a client today? What if she didn’t want to work with you because you were a woman of color?  What if she had been arrested for street fighting during the “Unite the Right” rally and was open about her wish to “hurt Leftists?”  Based on your training thus far in this social work program, how would you approach your work with this client?

How would you respond to a client with a disability who actively identified as a White nationalist/Nazi if you were to be assigned such a client today? What if she didn’t want to work with you because you were a woman of color? What if she had been arrested for street fighting during the “Unite the Right” rally and was open about her wish to “hurt Leftists?”  Based on your training thus far in this social work program, how would you approach your work with this client?

Please leave your comments about this discussion prompt and how it might be improved or expanded upon.  All feedback is welcome.

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