While holding signs and chanting "disabled workers from Goodwill cannot pay their bills," about 10 people from the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois marched outside the Des Plaines Goodwill store on Saturday morning, protesting what they said are unfair wages for disabled workers.
The march was one of 80 around the country as activists tried to put pressure on the national reseller to pay employees, most of which are disabled in some way, higher wages, said Patti Gregory-Chang, president of the federation.
According to a Freedom of Information request sent by the federation, at least one Goodwill employee in the U.S. is making 22 cents per hour, said Gregory-Chang, an attorney from Chicago.
"As long as any of us are exploited like that, we all are," she said.
However, no Goodwill employees in Illinois are making less than minimum wage and the practice is protected under federal law, said Pat Boelter, vice president of marketing for Goodwill.
There is a section of the Fair Labor Standards Act that enables employers to pay wages below the federal minimum, commensurate with productivity, to employees who have disabilities that directly affect their job performance, she said.
Boelter said that working at Goodwill is about more than just a paycheck for employees who may have severe and multiple disabilities.
"One size does not fit all. To measure this legislation by wages is doing it a disservice," Boelter said. "These people also receive services such as coaching, life skills, emotional security and more. We help give them a safety net." While the group of protesters marched in the front of the Des Plaines store, Gregory-Chang said she hopes to overturn the law that allows companies like Goodwill to pay employees less than minimum wage, but Boelter said that would not be a good idea. "Our concern is that if the federal legislation changes we would not be able to employ them," she said. "The very people they are trying to help would wind up being hurt instead."