PenniesThanks to a 75 year old loophole in the law, charities such as Goodwill are able to exploit their workers by paying below minimum wage; in some instances as little as 22 cents an hour. Speaking of Goodwill, the multibillion-dollar company is one of the well-known non-profit organizations that has been granted permission to pay thousands of its disabled workers less than minimum wage due to said loophole.

Section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a law passed in 1938, allows certain employers to request minimum wage certificates from the Department of labor which would give the employer the right to pay disabled workers according to their abilities, or disabilities if you will.

Low Pay Is a Violation of Civil Rights

2011 Records from the Labor Department in Pennsylvania show that some Goodwill workers are earning around .22, .38, and .41 cents per hour. A current worker, Harold Leigland, who works as a clothes hanger at Goodwill of Great Falls, Montana and is legally blind, said "If they really do pay the CEO of Goodwill three-quarters of a million dollars, they certainly can pay me more than they're paying.”

His wife, Sheila also blind and a former employee of the same Goodwill said “It's a question of civil rights.  I feel like a second-class citizen. And I hate it."

Other critics of Section 14 (c) have focused much of their anger on nonprofit organizations, which tend to hold most (but not all) of the exemptions. "People are profiting from exploiting disabled workers," said president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Ari Ne'eman. "It is clearly and unquestionably exploitation."

Surprisingly there are some who defend the draconian law saying that without such a law those with disabilities would have even less opportunity to earn a living. Recently, a Department of Labor spokesman told NBC news that the law "provides workers with disabilities the opportunity to be given meaningful work and receive an income."

Harold Leigland, unfortunately knows that organizations such as Goodwill have the upper hand. "We are trapped," he said. "Everybody who works at Goodwill is trapped." For a bit of perspective…Leigland is a 66 year-old former massage therapist that had previously earned a college degree. Currently he earns only $5.46 per hour, a figure that has risen and fallen based on Goodwill’s method of calculating salaries, called time studies. Using the “time studies” method, workers are essentially timed on performing tasks and then their wage is determined from the results. Oftentimes the result is less than the minimum wage.  Leigland believes that the time studies are made harder when Goodwill wishes to pay workers less "Sometimes the test is easier than others. It depends on if, as near as I can figure, they want your wage to go up or down. It's that simple," he said.

Sadly, according to the Goodwill's own figures about 4,000 of its 30,000 disabled workers are paid well below minimum wage, whereas CEO salaries totaled almost $20 million in 2011. Just to give you an idea of such salaries, Goodwill International CEO, Jim Gibbons, was paid $729,000 in 2011

Of course Gibbons defended Section 14 (c) and the time studies approach. He said the experience of workers is "typically not about their livelihood. It's about their fulfillment. It's about being a part of something. And it's probably a small part of their overall program.”

Interestingly there are some supporters of Section 14 (c) outside of big business. Fran Davidson of Great Falls, Montana supports the program which her son Jeremy is a part of. "I feel really good about it. I don't have to worry so much about him.  I know he's not getting picked on, and he's in a safe place. He enjoys what he's doing, and he's happy, and that's what we like for our kids." Although Jeremy began his work for Goodwill earning less than minimum wage, but recently his performance on a time study has raised him to Montana’s minimum wage level of $7.80.

With a new bill before Congress, there is hope that Section 14(c) will be repealed. Rep. Gregg Harper, R has proposed a bill that would overturn this law. "This dated provision unjustly prohibits workers with disabilities from reaching their full potential,” Harper said.

After hearing about this archaic and outdated law I was infuriated. It is demeaning and discriminatory to say the least. Citizens with disabilities are not second class, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. I am hopeful for Representative Harper’s bill. It is time for a change!