For the longest time, I would take the “stuff” piled in my closets and basement to my local Goodwill. As of today, I will cease to have anything to do with Goodwill in any capacity. There is a situation occurring in Illinois that deserves far greater attention than it is receiving; it concerns paying persons with disabilities a fair wage for their work, which is a common problem and needs to be addressed.

On July 16, 2019, management of a Goodwill store in Illinois decided to cut payroll costs by laying off workers with disabilities, which is deeply troubling, because Illinois is raising its minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2025.[1]The director deemed it necessary to take proactive measures to offset rising labor costs. Here is the troubling aspect: the director makes a salary exceeding $150,000 per year, and the purpose of Goodwill is to “help people overcome challenges to build skills, find jobs and grow their careers.”[2] Also, keep in mind that Goodwill does not pay for the goods they sell in their stores; all of the inventory is donated by local communities, which Goodwill turns around and sells for a profit. An organization that receives money from governments and does not pay for its inventory should not make the selfish decision to cut payroll in response to a law being enacted in 2025. Unfortunately, the director resigned her position.[3] My hope was that the director would reach out to the disabled community and become aware of the situation regarding disabled employees.

In addition to the actions of a Goodwill in Illinois, there is a stigma about the disability community regarding employment. There are over 60 million people with disabilities in the United States, which means 1 in 4 adults have a disability.[4] Unfortunately, employers tend to not hire persons with disabilities because of the “fear factor” – fear of a lawsuit or of the unknown. Many persons with disabilities have the ability to work in some capacity; sadly, nearly 80 percent of adults with disabilities.[5] Employers tend to believe the work of the disabled will not be up to the required standards. As a result, employers often choose to hire someone without a disability. The stigma against the disability community needs to cease, and this can only happen if awareness and accessibility are improved in our communities.

Finally, not only does the disability community have to deal with misguided beliefs about their abilities, but it is also perfectly legal to pay these individuals below minimum wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act, which was passed in 1938, allows employers to apply for a certificate to pay individuals with disabilities less than minimum wage[6] on the assumption that the work performed by these individuals will not be up to acceptable standards and the cost of accommodations is not feasible. A recent study suggests the exact opposite: Businesses focused on hiring those with disabilities see an increase in revenue and profits. Also noted in the study is that the cost of accommodations is minimal.[7] Again, this whole issue is rooted in awareness and understanding of the disability community.

In light of the situation that occurred in Illinois, I will not engage with Goodwill. It will, however, encourage me to continue doing the work of SNs360, which is a nonprofit organization focusing on redefining communities. Much of our work is intended to increase awareness and improve accessibility for the disability community and normalize engagement with the disability community in all aspects of society. Individuals with disabilities have gifts and talents to share with the world, and they deserve an equal opportunity for employment and to receive a fair salary.


References

[1] https://www.wcia.com/news/local-news/goodwill-pulls-paychecks-from-disabled-workers/

[2] https://www.goodwill.org

[3] https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-land-of-lincoln-goodwill-ceo-resigns-20190719-i3no2sfbbvh4xf3ajebjeo24xm-story.html

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html

[5] https://www.thearcofil.org/arc-and-people-with-disabilities-arent-entitled-to-the-minimum-wage/

[6] https://www.dol.gov/whd/specialemployment/

[7] https://www.business.com/articles/hire-disabled-people/