Unexpected Venting Due to a News Story

I don’t know why, but my home page is set up for different news feeds. It’s a love/hate thing. I want to know what’s going on, but most of the time it just makes me angry and or frustrated. This one just hit close to home for me because it concerns the population I work with. I wrote a letter to Goodwill of America’s main headquarters, which will probably not accomplish anything, but it made me feel better. I thought I might as well put it here as well, just so a few more people might know about it.

Dear Goodwill Industries of America,

I work with children with disabilities, but I have worked with all age groups in several different settings for individuals with disabilities. I am a strong believer in supporting individuals who are able to work in doing so. I had heard of Goodwill as being an employer of individuals with disabilities, and thought that was really wonderful. I didn’t know all the details about it. This story was in the news today (12/16/12):

EUGENE, Ore. – Jeremy Zerger goes to his job at Goodwill four hours a day.

“I like helping the co-workers,” Zerger said.

The 27-year-old Goodwill employee is autistic and works through the long-term services program.

“I’m doing my best like everyone else because I work pretty hard,” Zerger said.

Zerger’s grandmother said she became frustrated when her grandson wasn’t brining home as much in pay.

“Employees are not treated like they should be,” said Debbie Jensen, Zerger’s grandmother.

Jensen said her grandson started out making minimum wage.

After 7 years, the disabled employee is currently making $5.59 an hour after he failed a productivity test that goodwill gives twice a year to their employees.

“You can’t survive on $5.59 an hour,” Jensen said.

According to Fair Labor Standards Act Section 14 (c), workers with disabilities can make less than minimum wage.

“We conduct time studies to determine their wage,” said Rufina Saiz, assistant to the President at Goodwill.

Disabled employees at Goodwill are tested on 5 tasks. Then the workers are paid a weighted average of their productivity.

Thus disabled employees wages can fluctuate every six months.

Goodwill said they provide great opportunities for disabled folks through their Long Term Services Program.

“That gives them pride in who they are and allows them to earn a pay check,” Saiz said.

Jensen feels her grandson’s paycheck is being cut short.

“These people are disabled and that’s the reason why they’re working there and they shouldn’t be punished for not being able to pass a test,” Jensen said.

Goodwill employs 126 individuals with disabilities in Lane and South Coast Counties.

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This is absolutely pathetic. People can’t even survive on minimum wage, much less $5.59 an hour. You are an organization that is supposed to be helping, not taking advantage of people because they happened to be born with a disability to you can take advantage of them. You probably get a tax write-off as well. What about accommodations? That’s a law as well.

And don’t feel like you’re safe and secure because you don’t have a disability. Thousands of people receive traumatic brain injuries every year, or have strokes, or are involved in something that suddenly makes them dependent on others. I’ve been off of work for a year because of an Ulnar nerve injury. Who would think that something so small could effect your whole life so profoundly? I don’t like throwing this statement around, because I’m not a particularly religious person, but there for the grace of God go I. I’ve thought about that a lot since I started working in this field.

I am extremely disappointed in Goodwill as an organization. My boyfriend had already had a bad experience with our local Goodwill in terms of finding a job for one of his transition students (students with developmental disabilities aged 18-21) a few years ago, where they offered the student the job, then suddenly, out of nowhere, expected reimbursement for paying him. What the hell? Personally, I think I’ll shop at other thrift stores (because working with individuals with disabilities, you don’t make enough to shop anywhere else for clothes, etc.) and work with the children I do, when I am finally off disability, to try to make my difference in how individuals with disabilities are treated by working with them myself. Just because you have a disability does NOT mean you don’t have the right to try to make some money to try to help provide yourself with food, clothing, and shelter.

Sincerely,
Wendy Clements

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