October 2, 2017; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In July, Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania phased out its practice of paying subminimum wages to its workers with disabilities. Today, it will completely phase out its “sheltered workshop” in favor of a workplace where people with and without disabilities work alongside one another.
NPQ has previously pointed out that these programs, which under the Federal Labor Standards Act, Section 14(c), allow employers waivers to pay less than minimum wage, are slowly filtering themselves out as attitudes about disabilities change.
“Although this sheltered workshop model has been a widely accepted industry practice among service providers for decades, Goodwill recognized a changing landscape in regard to how services should be provided for people with disabilities,” said Michael Smith, the president/CEO of the organization. “Beginning in 2015, Goodwill initiated an important transformation away from the traditional sheltered workshop model.”
And with that, the southwest Pennsylvania nonprofit becomes one of the state’s 37 such programs to end the sheltered workshop practice since 2011. This might be big cause for celebration, but there are still at least 100 other subminimum programs still functioning in Pennsylvania alone. Compare this to Maine, where the last such program was closed this past July. Goodwill is one of the biggest users of the waiver, as Lou Altman wrote at that time:
Goodwill Industries, a multibillion dollar nonprofit heavyweight in human services that is known for its good deeds and inexpensive clothing and wares, is one of the most visible nonprofit organizations that takes advantage of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Section 14(c), usually referred to simply as “Section 14(c).” The behemoth charity has dozens of locations in the United States, some of which are documented paying their workers with disabilities as little as 22 cents per hour.
In 2013, Watchdog.org reported that half of all 165 affiliates of Goodwill used the federal subminimum wage provision to support their employment programs. Today, even as the practice slowly filters out of the field in which it has been embedded, Jennifer Garman, director of government affairs at the advocacy group Disability Rights Pennsylvania, says, “We would expect to see more providers changing their business model in the years to come.”—Ruth McCambridge