Regional Goodwill Says They're Doing Good By Their Employees - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Regional Goodwill Says They're Doing Good By Their Employees

Posted: Updated:

RICHLAND, Wash.- NBC reporters discovered recently that at Goodwill stores some disabled employees in other states can be paid as little as 20 cents an hour. This is all under a completely legal section of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. NBC Right Now met with our local Goodwill representatives of the Columbia and some of their employees to get a better idea of just how good Goodwill can be.

"I wasn't sure whether they were willing to take a risk with me?" explained May-May Adams. "When they did I know I was in a great place to start. Even if it was a stepping stone it was better than nothing."

Adams is not disabled, but she's disadvantaged. Three years ago her and her husband were jobless and hopeless, living in her mother's garage. As part of her welfare she entered a training program through Goodwill that taught her the skills she needed to get into the working environment. Now she's a full time Goodwill employee.

"Without them I really don't know where I'd be. I'd probably be homeless by now."

Cathy Steffke, one of three disability rights activists that appeared on Friday's Rock Center program stated, "Why would you want to stop someone from being everything that they can be and why would you want to stop someone from making a living wage?"

The activists claim that the way Goodwill chooses to pay disabled workers is unfair. The company puts the disabled workers through a training program similar to the one Adams completed. Their base pay is a $1.50 an hour according to regional execs.

"While they're in a training program they are acquiring skills and as they acquire skills they are able to earn more money" said Scott Shinsato, the Associate Executive Director of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia.

While the pay starts low, the only employees that are paid that rate are ones who qualify as developmentally disabled. Once they make it through the program, they are paid wages that are adequate with their abilities, mostly at or even slightly above minimum wage.

"The reality is that if there weren't training programs such as the ones provided at Goodwill, some of these individuals with pretty severe challenges would have nowhere to go," said Shinsato.

According to Adams, if it weren't for these existing programs like the disability program and the one that helped her get on her feet., she'd be stuck where she was three years ago.

"Back then it was bleak. I didn't know how my future was going to be…now at least I get a paycheck, I have my own place, I have my own car, my family is happy and I'm happy."

One phrase the people at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia stressed was that their disabled workers are "disabled for the work performed," meaning they promote an environment where employees can work in ways that are best for their disabilities while promoting the growth for future capabilities.