Goodwill responds to allegations of special low wages - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Goodwill responds to low wage allegations

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Ari Ne'Eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network Ari Ne'Eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Goodwill Industries of the Coastal Empire is defending its good name. 

A national group says Goodwill is paying workers with disabilities less than minimum wage - in some cases - less than $1 per hour. 

Goodwill is on the list of agencies with the certificate allowing them to pay sub-minimum wage.

But the organization said they don't. This all boils down to what disability advocates call a loophole in the Fair Standards Act left over from the 1930s. Agencies can apply for a certificate allowing them to pay workers - with disabilities - below the minimum wage. 

The National Council on Disabilities and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network said some wages are as low as 22 cents an hour in parts of the country. They want the certificate phased out as more agencies still apply for it. 

"Regrettably, we are seeing entities like Goodwill and others exploit people with disabilities with the use of sub-minimum wage," said Ari Ne'Eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and a supporter of the petition against Goodwill. 

"But it depends on how they use the certificate. We use the certificate to be able to provide paid training," said Brenda Pollen, of Goodwill Industries of the Coastal Empire. 

Pollen told WTOC that in Georgia, the four main Goodwill Industries united a long time ago to pay all employees minimum wage or higher. 

Ne'eman admits that in Georgia, more than half of workers with disabilities are in integrated employment, moving away from sub-minimum wage, which he said is encouraging. 

Goodwill of the Coastal Empire just wants the public to know that just because they have the certificate, it does not mean they would use it to exploit anyone.

"Goodwill is here to support. We would never - in any instance - offer to our individuals with disabilities or without - pay below minimum wage," Pollen said. 

The petition, which condemns Goodwill nationally, on is now up to more than 150,000 signatures, calling on those Goodwill affiliates who do pay below minimum wage to change their ways. 

Goodwill has thousands of employees nationwide with disabilities. 

Goodwill of Coastal Empire is on the list along with several other agencies in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry who have the certificate allowing the low, special minimum wage.

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