A national disability group protests against Goodwill’s practices

Posted at 11:33 PM, Aug 25, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-25 23:33:45-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - “More good jobs but not Goodwill!” chant protesters outside the Second Debut Goodwill store in Carytown Saturday morning.

The protesters are members of the Richmond chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (N.F.B.).  They are part of a nationwide protest Saturday boycotting Goodwill Industries.

The N.F.B. is angry about Goodwill's use of an exemption in the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act that allows employers to hire individuals with disabilities at wage rates below the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Section 214(c) of the Federal Fair Labor Standard Act includes a provision that allows employers that hire individuals with disabilities to pay them less than the federal minimum wage.  The exemption is aimed at creating employment options for those whose disabilities may limit their job opportunities.

“It's a matter of principle; it's not what the law lets you get away with.  It's a matter of fairness and dignity and equity,” says Fred Schroeder, President of NFB Virginia.  “Nobody can support themselves or a family on a sub-minimum wage.”

Of its 105,000 workers nationwide, Goodwill employs around 30,000 people with disabilities.

Goodwill says its goal for their employees hired under the disabilities exemption is to provide more than just a daily wage.

“Part of their program isn't just the salary, it's many other supports: occupational therapy, skills development, job coach training where they have an individual job coach to help them,” says Ellen Thornhill, Communications Manager Goodwill of Central Virginia.

Protests like the one in Carytown were held in more than 80 cities across the country Saturday. The N.F.B. hopes this will help further the conversation with Goodwill about the disabilities exemption.

“Goodwill is one of the largest charities of its type, and we believe it should be a leader in changing this practice,” says Schroeder.

“We're both passionate about the individuals we serve, and we both want what we believe is in the very best interest of the individuals we serve,” says Thornhill.  “So we're really not that far apart.”

Organizers with N.F.B tell CBS 6 dialogue will continue in the future between themselves, lawmakers, and employers like Goodwill about the disabilities exemption.