Can you imagine earning 22 cents an hour - and trying to live on it?
The petitioners state: "According to Labor Department records, Goodwill pays some of its disabled workers as low as 22, 38 and 41 cents per hour." Everyone's pay isn't that low, but the rub is that federal law could let Goodwill get away with it, the petition adds.
Harold and Sheila Leighland, two blind Goodwill employees, launched the petition via the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. "Sheila Leighland worked at a Goodwill in Montana for four years making about $3.50 an hour but was forced to quit when Goodwill lowered her hourly wage to $2.75. Her husband added Goodwill pays him less because the charity knows the couple has no other options," the petition says.
"I want to be paid a living wage for meaningful work," Sheila Leighland said on the petition. "And not just me-all Goodwill employees deserve the same. They call themselves leaders in providing opportunity for the disabled, but since when did opportunity look like a quarter an hour?"
The petition about Goodwill's low pay is one of an ever-widening range of actions low-income workers took nationwide in late July, demanding a fair living wage, decent jobs, and the right to organize without the boss' interference, among other things.
Besides the fast food workers' walkout and the online petition, actions included yet another forced strike by workers in Walmart warehouses in Southern California and a lawsuit by workers denied overtime pay by Apple Industries, the Silicon Valley icon.
All are part of a larger movement nationwide among exploited low-wage workers, demanding that rich and profitable firms treat workers fairly, pay them living wages and at least in the fast food workers' case-not stand in the way of their legal rights.
The biggest action came July 29 when fast food workers in seven cities took to the streets for 1-day walkouts.
The fast food workers demonstrated in Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Mich., Kansas City, Mo., Milwaukee, New York City and St. Louis, against chains like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC. Besides decent wages and working conditions, they reiterated their demand for the right to organize without management interference.
The fast food workers, supported by Good Jobs Now-which in turn gets support from the Service Employees-demanded a living wage of $15 hourly. Most now earn the federal minimum wage and even the few supervisors in the fast food chains earn an average of $13, the National Employment Law Project reports.
"SEIU members, like all service-sector workers, are worse off when large fast-food and retail companies are able to hold down wages and push down benefit standards for working people," union President Mary Kay Henry said.
"It's noisy, it's really hot, fast, they rush you. Sometimes you don't even get breaks. All for $7.25? It's crazy," Nathalia Sepulveda, a McDonald's worker in New York City, told the Associated Press. At a walkout from a Wendy's in Manhattan, workers said, "We can't survive on $7.25," and "supersize our wages." They also asked customers not to go in. So did Mark Bittman, food writer for the New York Times Magazine, in a blog that ran four days before.
"A petition titled 'Economists in support of a $10.50 U.S. minimum wage' estimates McDonald's could recoup half the cost of such an increase simply by hiking the price of a Big Mac from $4 to $4.05," Bittman blogged. "Well-intentioned people often ask me what they can do to help improve our food system. Here's an easy one: When you see that picket line next week, don't cross it. In fact, join it."
The Goodwill workers' petition on change.org has over 160,000 signatures as we go to press. The website explains that the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act lets firms pay disabled workers according to results of time tests comparing their output to that of a non-disabled worker making the same goods. The firms can adjust wages down accordingly. Disabled workers' pay can be as low as 22 cents an hour, the petition says.
The Walmart workers were forced to strike July 24 at the firm's warehouse in Riverside, Calif., Our Walmart, an independent organization of the workers, reported. Besides demands for improvements in wages and working conditions, the Walmart workers also demanded it reinstate the 19 worker leaders of prior protected protests against Walmart's conditions and reverse its discipline of 40 others. Under labor law, both the firings and the discipline are illegal.
The Riverside workers reported "extreme intimidation, spying, and retaliation... since they exposed dangerous and unsafe working conditions" at the warehouse. Walmart's reaction to this year's caravan of upset workers descending on its annual meeting shows the firm "feels threatened and has doubled down on its suppression."
"We fear that every day we go to work could be our last," Walmart Riverside warehouse worker Heidi Baizabal told Our Walmart. "We are followed, watched on camera, forced into individual meetings, and harassed daily. We need Walmart to see what's happening inside its contracted warehouse. We move Walmart suitcases and we want safe, good jobs."
The Apple workers in Silicon Valley took to the courts, rather than the streets, to get overtime pay. Former Apple workers Amanda Frlekin and Dean Pelle sued in federal court in San Francisco on July 25, and asked the judges to declare it a class action on behalf of all 42,000 workers in U.S. Apple retail stores for the last three years.
Apple, the lawsuit says, makes its workers stand in line, unpaid, after their workdays are done, while its hired security guards check their bags and frisk them to make sure they don't walk out with an iPhone, iPad or other merchandise. The extra 15-minutes-to-half-hour waits cost each worker an average of $1,400 in yearly unpaid overtime, the suit adds.
No date has been set for trial.
Photo: AP /The Dispatch, Paul Colletti