Protesters, from left, Debbie McDonald, Max Parker and Donna Parker gather at the parking lot of Goodwill on Slappey Boulevard on Saturday. The group is promoting a boycott of Goodwill Industries until it adopts a responsible corporate policy to pay its workers with disabilities at least the federal minimum wage.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Blind, with a prosthetic leg, in a wheelchair and resolute of purpose, a small group turned out at 11 a.m. Saturday in support of a minimum wage for the disabled.
They held their signs at the driveway entrance to the Goodwill center at 2017 N. Slappey Blvd. to support a federal law under consideration: the Fair Wage for Workers with Disabilities Act that would guarantee them the same minimum wage as nonhandicapped workers.
"It isn't at this Goodwill store, but there are other places and nonprofits that pay way under minimum wage," said Debbie McDonald, spokeswoman for the National Federation of the Blind. "All we are asking is to abolish the subminimum wage. We want people to be aware of it."
The about 50 Southern Georgia and Alabama Goodwill stores under the umbrella of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Rivers company pay a minimum of $7.35 to new hires, said Jane Nichols, president and CEO of the company. After 90 days, employees can qualify for a raise.
This is not true nationwide, Nichols said. There are places where nonprofits are operating legally under a law passed in 1938 that allows wages far less than minimum. Wages as low as 22 cents an hour are paid, according to the federation.
The present law allows such action under section 14(c), which grants a special wage certificate. From its inception, Nichols said, Southern Rivers did not apply for or want the certificate.
"Our board of directors (nonpaid volunteers) voted against it," she said. "None of our stores or centers pays below minimum."
Any claims that shops would not be able to stay open if the pay were higher aren't true, a bulletin from the federation states. Nonprofit revenue is generated by the labor of the worker, but the organizations also receive money from donations and the government.
Under the new law, the Secretary of Labor would no longer issue new special wage certificates, and the old certificates would be phased out over three years.
The disabled need the help of citizens in Southwest Georgia, said Max Parker, of the Southwest Chapter of the national Federation of the Blind. Call, write and email your elected officials in support of H.R. 3086, he urged.