What an important experience it was today to be a part of an 800-1000 person labor protest of majority African American low income workers walking off the job and demanding President Obama direct federal agencies to pay a living wage. People don’t know that the janitor at the Smithsonian has a job tied to federal money and makes $8 an hour.
Goodwill Industries is the worst charity in America. Yes, the same Goodwill that you just gave all of your old clothing to. Yes, the same Goodwill where you bargain-hunt on the weekends. Yes, the same Goodwill that Beyoncé is encouraging her fans to support with “donation drives at her North American concerts.”
In a recent investigation for Watchdog.org, I reported that a majority of Goodwill entities in the United States pay people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage, while these same Goodwills simultaneously spend tens of millions of dollars per year on executive compensation and travel-related expenses.
More than 100 Goodwill entities employ workers through the Special Wage Certificate program, a Depression-era loophole in federal labor law that allows organizations to pay subminimum wages to people with disabilities. According to Goodwill, 7,300 of its 105,000 employees are subject to the minimum wage exemption that affects 300,000 workers nationwide. My investigation revealed that these same Goodwill entities that use the special wage program simultaneously spent $53.7 million in total executive compensation. Here are some more highlights:
- Goodwill of Southern California paid more than $1.1 million in total compensation to its then-CEO, making him the highest paid Goodwill executive in the country.
- A husband-wife Goodwill executive team in North Carolina collected a combined $795,372 in total compensation.
- Seventeen Goodwill entities reported executive compensation in excess of $1 million per year.
- Goodwill entities spent more than $39.1 million in travel-related expenses.
The Goodwill of the Columbia Willamette is a great example of Goodwill’s wage disparity. In 2011, the lowest paid worker earned just $1.40 per hour. Michael Miller, the president and CEO, earned $742,875 in total compensation. His pay has actually gone down in the past decade. Matthew Kish, a reporter with the Portland Business Journal, wrote in 2011 that, at one time, Miller’s compensation package topped out at $831,508.
The National Federation of the Blind has been campaigning for years to end the deplorable subminimum wage policy. “People with disabilities have the right and ability to work in the same jobs earning the same wages as nondisabled workers,” the group argues on its website.
Amazingly, Goodwill openly defends their wage policies and practices. Last year, Brad Turner-Little, the director of mission strategy at Goodwill International, Inc., defended the practice as one of Goodwill’s “tools” to help the disabled.
“With 80 percent of working age adults with disabilities in our country not participating in the workforce currently, we believe that it’s important to explore more types of opportunities,” Turner-Little said. “The special minimum wage certificate is a tool to create employment for people with disabilities. It’s not the only tool.”
How has Goodwill been so successful at pulling the wool over our eyes? Part of the problem is the national news media that reinforces Goodwill’s positive public image without any critical examination of the nonprofit’s labor practices. For example, this NBC Nightly News “Making a Difference” segment by Ron Mott, which aired on December 26, 2010, described Goodwill as “a venerable American institution” that is “helping people find jobs.” Not a word about how much those jobs pay.
Hundreds of fast food and retail workers are expected to join Thursday’s work stoppage, making Milwaukee the fifth city in a national strike wave.
[O]ver the decades, Henry’s sent 1,500 mentally disabled men to labor camps in seven states, including Iowa camps in Spirit Lake, Ellsworth and Atalissa…. President Kenneth Henry, 72, of Proctor, Texas, also denied allegations that the workers — whom he repeatedly referred to as “the boys,” although most were in their 40s, 50s and 60s — were routinely abused or neglected.
This is actually common practice, and generally speaking, completely legal. It is estimated that there are currently just shy of half a million disabled workers in the U.S. who are currently being payed below the minimum wage and prohibited from forming unions. The “impaired worker” exemption to labor law was codified in FDR’s 1935 National Labor Relations Act and has never been overturned.
HUNDREDS OF low-wage fast food and retail workers walked off the job and into the Chicago streets on April 24, only two weeks after fast food workers in New York City held another similar walkout and amid an ongoing national campaign against the retail giant Wal-Mart.
In Chicago, workers at more than 40 workplaces, including McDonald’s, Subway, Macy’s, Sally Beauty Supply, Victoria’s Secret and Whole Foods Market, organized rolling strikes that swept across the city from 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. This was the latest workplace action called by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC)—also known as Fight for 15 (its central demand is that Chicago’s minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour).
The organization of fast-food and retail workers took its campaign public last November with a series of banner drops and sit-ins aimed at upscale retailers in the Loop and Magnificent Mile.
The April 24 day of strikes and protests focused again on the demand for a $15 an hour minimum wage, but there were also calls for an end to discrimination and intimidation against workers for organizing.
Raising the minimum wage would almost double the income of many fast-food and retail workers in Chicago, where the current minimum is only $8.25. The Living Wage Calculator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website estimates that a wage of about $20 an hour is needed for Chicago’s working families to meet their needs.
Workers struck on April 24 at great personal risk because the minimum wage in Chicago is a poverty wage. “We can’t survive on $8.25!” workers chanted as they marched from store to store in the Loop, where an estimated $4 billion passes through the cash registers annually.
Yesterday—April 24th—was a red-letter day in the annals of worker mobilization in post-collective-bargaining America. In Chicago, hundreds of fast-food and retail employees who work in the Loop and along the Magnificent Mile called a one-day strike and demonstrated for a raise to $15-an-hour and the right to form a union. At more than 150 Wal-Mart stores across the nation, workers and community activists called on the chain to regularize employees’ work schedules. And under pressure from an AFL-CIO-backed campaign of working-class voters who primarily aren’t union members, the county supervisors of New Mexico’s Bernalillo County voted to raise the local minimum wage.
The Chicago demonstration, which began in the dawn’s early light of 5:30 a.m., included workers at McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Subway, as well as Macy’s, Sears, and Victoria’s Secret, all of whom make the state minimum wage ($8.25) or just slightly more. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Chicago are low-wage, and more than half of the city’s low-wage workers are older than 30. The demonstration was organized by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, which formed to demand a living wage for the city’s retail and fast-food workers.
The “Workers Organizing Committee” is a name with a pedigree. Shortly after the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935 and a number of unions broke away from the AFL to organize the factory workers whom the AFL had refused to organize, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) formed to build union support among employees of U.S. Steel, Bethlehem Steel, and the other major companies in the industry. Following the wave of sit-down strikes in auto factories that led to the recognition of the United Auto Workers, the major steel companies signed a contract with the SWOC. The committee later changed its name to the more familiar United Steelworkers.
Just as the steel workers piggy-backed on the auto workers, so Chicago’s low-wage workers are following a course laid out by their counterparts in New York, where hundreds of fast-food workers also staged a one-day strike earlier this month.
Though the Service Employees International Union aided in the New York and Chicago efforts, this is anything but a conventional union-organizing campaign. With collective bargaining in the private sector all but a dead letter—just 6.6 percent of private-sector employees are union members, and the legal obstacles to organizing new members grow steadily steeper—SEIU is one of several major unions shifting their focus to actions that publicize the economic and social costs of ever-growing low-wage employment.
With the backing of the United Food and Commercial Workers, thousands of Wal-Mart employees have formed an association—not a union seeking a contract—that works alongside community activists to pressure the company to make changes such as regularizing workers’ hours. The AFL-CIO is expanding its Working America program, which has successfully mobilized non-union working-class voters to back progressive candidates at election time, to all 50 states. The union is expanding the program’s reach beyond the ballot box too, experimenting with projects that would activate Working America members in workplace-related causes and wage-related legislation. Working America has 112,000 members in New Mexico, recruited, as is Working America’s custom, through a door-to-door canvass. It has lobbied successfully for minimum-wage hikes in both Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.
None of these undertakings, at least for now, would result in collective bargaining agreements—the deficient state of workers’ rights under current law make that a bridge too far. But, there are ways these efforts could yield improvements in pay and working conditions nonetheless.
Chicago’s downtown Loop area is the heart of commerce in the city. But beginning at 5:30 A.M. today, fast food and retail workers there have gone on strike, following New York City fast food workers who walked off the job in November and again earlier this month demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
Organizers estimate about 500 workers, uniting under the name of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, will be striking today in industries long associated with low wages but unaccustomed to labor unrest. The campaign, backed by a coalition of Chicago unions and community organizations, has the lofty goal of winning a raise to $15 per hour for workers who make up nearly one-third of all jobs in the city.
Silvia Garduno, 27, works at a Sally’s Beauty Supply store in the Loop. The night before the strike, Garduno explained that despite working at the store (one location of “the largest retailer of professional beauty supplies in the world,” according to the company’s website) for three years, she earns $8.91 per hour.
“We’re the ones working our butts off,” Garduno says. “$8.91 is ridiculous—especially being downtown. We’re worth more.” The Loop sees about $4 billion in retail and fast food revenue each year.
In addition to low pay, Garduno says her work at Sally’s is sometimes dangerous, like when she says her store was robbed, and is often full of indignities, like when she had to take time off to tend to her sick mother and was told she might be fired.
Retail and food service jobs are typically thought of as entry-level positions, populated by teenagers looking for some extra spending money before moving on. But a recent National Employment Law Project study found that since the 2008 economic crash, the majority of jobs lost have been middle wage jobs (between $13.84 and $21.13), while the bulk of jobs under the “recovery” has been jobs between $7.69 and $13.83. It’s what has been called a “McJobs Recovery,” in which low-wage jobs are increasingly the only jobs available—for teenagers, young adults, middle-aged workers, everyone.
Indeed, at a meeting downtown two weeks before the strike, workers of a wide variety of ages and other demographic profiles gathered. One of three such meetings held to discuss whether or not to strike, nearly 100 workers squeezed into a sweltering room, listening to middle-aged Ecuadorian immigrants telling their stories of working at McDonald’s in Spanish, followed by the kind of white twenty-something cashiers who would likely take umbrage at being pegged as hipsters. An African-American man approaching what’s typically thought of as retirement age told of decades working in fast food and hovering near minimum wage, while a young Urban Outfitters worker said a raise would “make the difference between living and surviving.”
Minutes ago, hundreds of minimum wage fast food and retail workers all over Chicago walked off their jobs.
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New York City fast food workers this morning planned to walk off the job in what organizers promised would be the largest-ever strike against the fast-growing, virtually union-free industry. The workers are demanding that chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s raise their wages to $15 an hour and allow them to organize a union without retaliation. The campaign expected over 400 workers from 50-some stores to participate in the surprise strike, doubling the size of their previous walkout and potentially shutting down several fast food restaurants for the day.
“Obviously, it will piss off our bosses even more than before,” KFC worker Joe Barrera told Salon in a pre-strike interview. Barrera, 22, said that over his seven years in the industry, “we’ve had our complaints, but no one actually spoke out about it … I guess people were finally tired of the disrespect, under-compensation, being overworked, not having steady schedules and times, not having enough hours – basically, being played around with.” Workers from Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Domino’s, Papa John’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are also expected to join the strike.
WASHINGTON (AP) — While lower-wage American workers have accounted for the lion’s share of the jobs created since the 2007-2009 Great Recession, a new survey shows that they are also among the most pessimistic about their future career prospects, their job security and their finances.
The two-part Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of both employers and employees found high levels of anxiety among those earning $35,000 annually or less. Many of these workers say they’re worse off now than they were before or during the recession.
And there’s no question that workers see the world differently than do their bosses.
Seventy-two percent of employers at big companies and 58 percent at smaller ones say there is a “great deal” or “some” opportunity for worker advancement. But, asked the same question, 67 percent of all low-wage workers said they saw “a little” or “no opportunity” at their jobs for advancement.
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama called for increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour. On Tuesday, Congressional Democrats did him one better, unveiling a plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as well as raise the subminimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 an hour to 70 percent of the minimum wage.
Their proposal, however, would not cover the 420,000 Americans with disabilities who are currently paid a subminimum wage of as little as a few cents per hour in some state-sponsored “sheltered workshops,” such as Goodwill. These programs, licensed under provision 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, are intended to be for training, but many workers wind up as perpetual “trainees,” employed in sheltered workshops for years earning subminimium wage rates; thus becoming stuck in a cycle of poverty. While advocates have repeatedly tried to address this issue divides within both the Democratic Party and the disability community have so far prevented these laws from being sensibly revised.
… Disability advocates say that the real reason why [employers] support maintaining the 14c exemption is that they benefit financially from it. For instance, the CEO of Goodwill, one of the biggest employers of people with disabilities, makes more than $500,000 each year while some blind Goodwill workers are paid only $1.44 an hour.
“I think it has a lot to do with money,” says Trader. “For ACCSES, it is about their business strategy. There is not an argument in the research or among the self-advocacy community for continuing the 14c program. People with disabilities are saying close those things down and divert the money into more productive ways of supporting people in getting real jobs.”
OBAMA TALKED continually about the “middle class” in his State of the Union address—and very little about workers and the poor.
He did dust off an old promise to raise the federal minimum wage—to $9 an hour from the current $7.25. It’s certainly long past time that the working poor got some measure of help from Washington. But a full-time minimum-wage worker getting $9 an hour would make roughly $18,000 a year—still below the federal poverty line for a family of four. That’s just not enough action from the man who declared that “in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”
Actually, Obama campaigned in 2008 on a promise to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011, but he never followed through, even when the Democrats held both houses of Congress. Once you remember that Green Party candidate for president Ralph Nader was talking about a $10 an hour minimum wage back in 2000, Obama’s plan sounds even less radical.
Otherwise, Obama’s speech was notable for what he left out about the 99 percent—no discussion of workers and their unions, which have come under sustained assault from Corporate America and their Republican political servants. And America’s first Black president said very little about the economic and social injustices faced by African Americans, who continue to bear the worst impacts of the recession.
The world’s richest woman has equated Australia’s minimum wage to “class warfare,” following her controversial article last week where she called poor workers coddled, lazy drunks. Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart, who inherited her $30 billion fortune and mining empire, pointed to workers who make less than $2 as a model for economic competitiveness in mining:
We must be realistic, not just promote class warfare. Indeed, if we competed at the Olympic games as sluggishly as we compete economically, there would be an outcry.
The evidence is unarguable that Australia is indeed becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export- orientated business. Africans want to work. Its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day. Such statistics make me worry for this country’s future.