Demonstrators demand Goodwill stop paying sub-minimum wages

July 29, 2013

(WBEZ/Shannon Heffernan)
Activists wait inside the Goodwill to deliver a letter to Goodwill leadership. Around twenty other activist remained outside chanting.

Over a hundred organizations in Illinois hold a license that allows them to legally pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. Disabled Americans Want Work Now (DAWWN) says it’s unfair places like Goodwill can pay CEO’s six-figure salaries, while disabled workers earn less than a dollar an hour.

DAWWN activists marched in front of a Chicago Goodwill store and office building and then entered the building to deliver a letter on Friday. Activists were met by Pat Boelter, Chief Marketing Officer Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin.

Boelter said all their Chicago locations pay above minimum wage, but she defends other Goodwills that don’t. “These are individuals who are not employable in the community. This is an opportunity for an individual with severe disabilities to feel like they belong,” said Boelter.

DAWWN activist Susan Aarup said that pay is a matter of dignity.  “When they pay you less than a dollar an hour, they are telling you that you are worthless. We want honest pay for honest work.”

Activist Rene Luna said disabled workers can do equal work when given the right accommodations and opportunities. He praised the Employment First Act, a bill which was signed into law earlier this month with the goal of boosting employment for workers with disabilities. “In some ways there is a kind of revolution going on for us,” said Luna.

DAWWN says it will continue to protest until wages change.

Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @shannon_h