Does Goodwill take advantage of special-needs workers? - abc27 WHTM

Does Goodwill take advantage of special-needs workers?

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Twice a week, New Cumberland's Travis Trick works at the Harrisburg Goodwill Industries.

"Right now, he works on shoes," Travis's mom, Sharon Immel, said with pride as she watched her special needs son sort donated shoes into different bins.

Goodwill is what's called a "sheltered workshop." Travis and dozens of others with intellectual disabilities work at their own pace, for their own pay.

Travis makes about a dollar an hour.

"I love the program, I really do," said Sharon with great enthusiasm. "They have been great with Travis."

Brittney Lindsey is equally enthusiastic.

"We focus on teaching individuals pre-vocational skills," said Brittney, the workshop program coordinator.

She said for Goodwill, these special needs workers are a labor of love.

"We also work on skill building such as social skills, hygiene and teaching them different skills so that they can be successful in the community, she said"

Goodwill has certainly been successful in the midstate community. Last year, according to its CEO, it did $50 million in business and cleared $3 million after expenses.

But not everyone has good will for this century-old American institution.

"It's infuriating, it really is," said state Senator Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia).

Tartaglione is a champion of increasing the minimum wage and she's angry about a 1936 federal law that allows employers to pay special-needs workers less - in some cases, much less.

It's an issue that's being debated nationwide and Harrisburg's Goodwill was recently singled out in a report on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.

The report showed Department of Labor records that revealed the Harrisburg Goodwill paid hourly wages of 44 cents an hour, 41 cents an hour, 38 cents an hour and even 22 cents an hour.

"They're taking advantage of individuals who cannot fight for themselves, to realize they're not making the amount of money that they're worth," said Tartaglione.

But there's another side of the story, says Goodwill's chief operating officer Ron Kratofil.

"It has really proven to be a tool to help folks who otherwise might not have any employment opportunity to be paid based at their actual ability to produce, without fear of being dismissed because their productivity isn't up," Kratofil said.

Kratofil said there is a value placed on each of the tasks in the sheltered workshop and workers' pay is based on their individual accomplishment.

"If you should do 100 units in an hour, and it's a $10-an-hour job, every time you produce 100 units, you get $10. Whether that takes one hour, or two hours, or four hours, time's not the factor in special minimum wage. It allows you to meet people at where they're at," he said.

National advocates for the disabled say Goodwill is a $5 billion enterprise. Its leader makes more than $700,000 a year.

Kratofil, in Harrisburg, makes close to $300,000 a year.

Tartaglione is vowing to call on her congressman and Senator Bob Casey to revisit the law and get special needs workers more money.

"There's no reason in the world that they can't spare a couple more cents, or at least a dollar," she said.

Kratofil welcomes the debate, but warns about the unintended consequences.

"If we have to pay them $7.50 when they're producing $2, many people will be dismissed. They'll be dismissed from the paid activity, and all of the supports that go with that. How does that benefit the people?" he said.

For advocates and politicians it's a debate. For Sharon, it's life - and she has no problem with Travis's paycheck.

"It's not the money aspect, it's being proud of what you're able to do. It's being able to go out the door and go somewhere to work just like dad did, and just like mom did," she said. "If Goodwill was forced to pay minimum wage, do you know how many of our mentally handicapped individuals wouldn't even have a job? Because there are so many of our children in this world, and there's so few places for them to go."


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