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For disabled workers, pay is sometimes below minimum

A local group joined a national effort asking Goodwill Industries International to stop paying disabled workers special wages below minimum. Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma CEO Chris Daniels responds.
by Jennifer Palmer Modified: November 1, 2013 at 9:18 pm •  Published: November 2, 2013

A local group has joined a national effort asking Goodwill Industries to stop paying disabled workers wages less than minimum wage.

Led by Jeannie Massay, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma, the group plans to leave a petition signed by 170,000 Americans at the headquarters of the Oklahoma City-based Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma, asking it to release its federal 14(c) certificate, which gives certain employers the ability to pay workers with disabilities a special wage.

The petition is part of a national effort targeting Goodwill Industries International, based in Rockville, Md. In some areas of the country, Goodwill has been found paying wages below 10 cents an hour.

Though affiliated with the national nonprofit, Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma is a separate entity. Chief Executive Chris Daniels said its policy is to pay workers at least minimum wage unless the worker opts out.

Less than minimum

Of the 95 disabled workers the local agency employs, seven have opted to receive below minimum wage, he said.

In some cases, workers and their caregivers decide receiving minimum wage isn't worth the extra money because it would negatively impact the services they receive.

“We will be willing to give up our certificate as soon as we can without negatively impacting those seven (workers),” Daniels said.

Raising workers' wages was something he started looking at after becoming chief executive officer in 2011, he said.

Special wages are allowed under the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide significantly disabled people, who may have low productivity, an employment opportunity they may not have had otherwise.

But critics, like Massay, say disabled workers should receive a fair wage.

“Almost everyone I talk to is shocked that it is a practice that is still prevalent,” she said.

While many organizations hold 14(c) certificates, Goodwill was chosen as the subject of the petition because they are the largest and most visible.

by Jennifer Palmer
Investigative Reporter
Jennifer Palmer joined The Oklahoman staff in 2008 and, after five years on the business desk, is now digging deeper through investigative work. She's been recognized with awards in public service reporting and personal column writing. Prior to...
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