The dignity of work

Jackie Norris is president and CEO of Goodwill of Central Iowa and a longtime political organizer who previously served as chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Yesterday, Eric Donat shared with us his thoughts about employment for individuals with disabilities. I have to say, when I saw his post I was sad and mad. Sad at hearing about his personal experience and mad that someone did not feel dignity in their workplace.

As you may know, I am the new President and CEO of Goodwill of Central Iowa. We are based in the Des Moines area and our organization does not use the 14(c) special minimum wage certificate program which legally allowed organizations employing individuals with disabilities to pay sub-minimum wage. Goodwill of Northeast Iowa no longer does this either.

The original intent of the program was to provide a training wage based on piece per rate. The goal was to support individuals with disabilities by providing them training and an on-ramp into the workforce. I am not defending the program, just explaining what the U.S. Department of Labor intended when allowing this program to exist. There are examples across the country where individuals were mistreated or taken advantage of, and that should indeed make us all mad.

For your information, five Goodwill affiliates serve the state of Iowa, and none of those organizations currently participate in the special minimum wage certificate program. All trainees at Goodwill of Central Iowa, Goodwill of the Heartland, Goodwill of Northeast Iowa, Goodwill of the Great Plains, and Goodwill Omaha receive minimum wage while enrolled in programming, offering the opportunity to earn as they learn. In 2017 alone, those five organizations provided 182,383 services and helped 2,239 individuals with barriers find community employment. From the 53 stores in the state, $116 million in revenue last year helped to fund the programming serving individuals with disabilities or disadvantages.

At Goodwill of Central Iowa specifically, 85 cents of every dollar earned in stores goes to support our skills training and employment services.

Even more important to me is for everyone reading this post to understand that while many companies say they "value diversity in the workplace," they have yet to walk the walk. Individuals with disabilities, ex-offenders and those with language or literacy barriers continue to have a higher rate of unemployment than others. If you want an action item, please encourage your human resources departments to be open to hiring individuals with barriers - let's focus on what people CAN do, not what they can't.

Thanks again, Eric, for being courageous to share your story. This is a very important issue.

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