Kansans Join National Protest Against Goodwill

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Each a time a car passed him Saturday, it was an opportunity for National Federation of the Blind of Kansas' Leonard Silkey Jr. to get his message seen.

"It is a matter of self-respect even to the mentally challenged that they are paid a wage that says your work is worth something," said Silkey Jr., president of the organization's South Central Kansas chapter.

It's a message close to his heart. About eight years ago, Silkey Jr. worked alongside other people with disabilities at a Goodwill Industries store in Tulsa, Okla.

"Some of them were working for less than four dollars an hour, others for less than three," Silkey Jr. said.

Goodwill Industries was the target of the National Federation of the Blind's nationwide protest Saturday. Local groups protested in front of the Goodwill Industries Kansas store on West Central Avenue in Wichita. They say Goodwill Industries of Kansas is one of 64 entities out of 165 nationwide (roughly 39 percent) that do not guarantee minimum wage for workers with disabilities.

National Federation of the Blind leaders say Freedom of Information Requests filed by the organization show Goodwill Industries employees with disabilities at some of those 64 entities in the United States have been paid as low as 22 cents an hour. Local leaders have just filed four Freedom of Information requests to learn more about local practices.

At the center of their frustration Goodwill's use of the Special Minimum Wage Certificate under Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

"We believe this is an unfair discriminatory and immoral provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act. We want it removed," said Tom Page, 1st Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind Kansas South Central Kansas chapter. "It's been around for a long time and we feel now is the time to bring it to an end."

Section 14c allows employers to pay a piece rate. That means the worker gets paid based on their production level. The piece rate wage structure is based on market studies of the prevailing wages for given services.

It's legal and it's a provision Goodwill leaders say allows them to keep their commitment to giving work opportunities to those with severe disabilities.

"Goodwill is only one of many, many organizations that hire people with disabilities that use that 14c so that we can hire people with disabilities and give them the opportunity to earn a wage," said Gayle Goetz, Vice President of Career Services for Goodwill Industries of Kansas.

Goetz says this payment structure is only used with a small number of Goodwill Industries Kansas' contracts with local businesses. She says the 12 percent of Goodwill Industries of Kansas employees with severe disabilities may be paid that rate for those certain jobs.

"That enables a severely disabled person who can do very little to make some money. Otherwise they would have no job at all," Goetz said.

She says those with severe disabilities also receive family support, life skills training, and education. Goetz says all of this is in addition to whatever disability payments that may be receiving from the federal government.

But even so, Silkey Jr. says that doesn't make the Section 14c provision right.

"It's not a good idea now," Silkey Jr. said. "We live in an enlightened world and it's time we prove it."

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