Recently, NBC reported that, through an archaic labor law, Goodwill Industries has been legally able to pay disabled workers way below minimum wage.
The companies cite section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which lets them avoid paying disabled workers fair wages. The law states that “employers, after receiving a certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD), to pay special minimum wages – wages less than the federal minimum wage – to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed.”
This clause allows Goodwill to pay disabled employees as little as $0.22 per hour. In 2011, the company spent $30 million on executive salaries. Other companies have invoked section 14(c) to cut out on pay in order to preserve profits.
NBC also reported that Barnes and Noble Booksellers payed students from the Helen Keller National Center between $3.80 and $4.85 per hour. A spokesperson for the bookselling company was so bold as to say that the provision gave jobs to “people who would otherwise not have [the opportunity to work].” Some in society view the the disabled as unable to perform the same type and amount of tasks as those who are not disabled, but no matter how they are viewed, they are still entitled to the same compensation as “able-bodied” workers.
The companies are acting like they’re doing the disabled a favor by “giving a chance” to work. That’s why the right to work is called a right. These companies aren’t doing any favors or providing any charity. They’re greedily hoarding every penny they can, and they are using some outdated and unfair law as a blanket to cover themselves from any sort of legal or moral reprimand. Just because there’s a law on the books, doesn’t mean it’s a good and fair law, or even a smart law.
This practice is merely legal exploitation. These companies “play” charity by paying disabled workers pocket-change and have the gall to come forth to the public when they’re called on it, and say that they are providing “help” to those considered less able.
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.