Great Falls, MT

Goodwill Thrift Stores: Controversy and Change

Joel Eisenberg

As with the Salvation Army thrift shops, changes are occurring at a hastened pace in response to challenging business metrics including repercussions from COVID-19 and inflation.

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Author’s Note

This article is based on corporate postings and accredited media reports. Linked information within this article is attributed to the following outlets: ABCNews.com, Wikipedia.org, NonProfitSectorNews.com, Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, Cracked.com, and eCommerceBytes.com.

Introduction

In my recent NewsBreak article on the matter, “Fact-Check: Plans For Goodwill Location Closings in 2022,” I stated the following: Per ABC7News.com’s “Goodwill Closes 8 Stores in Bay Area Amid COVID-19 Pandemic,” Northern California locations were particularly impacted: Goodwill Industries of the Greater East Bay on Friday announced the closure of eight retail stores in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties, and the layoffs of 61 employees, citing the economic consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The locations closing are in Oakley, Dublin, Livermore, Durant Square in Oakland, Albany, Berkeley, Dixon, and Vallejo. Though the height of the pandemic has passed, recent online reports have it that other locations are in the early plans of shuttering throughout the current calendar year.

As with Salvation Army thrift stores, with which Goodwill Industries is frequently confused, recent closings as referenced have been due to three primary reasons: Repercussions from COVID-19, a cultural shift to online shopping, and financial metrics resulting from a volatile economy. As a result of Goodwill Industries current business issues, the organization has announced a host of changes moving forward.

Let us explore.

Goodwill Changes, 2022

NonProfitSectorNews.com maintains an archived February, 2021 report on its site, entitled “Goodwill Scrutinized on TikTok,” which I include here for perspective on a still challenging issue for the company, that of its alleged treatment of disabled employees.

As excerpted from the article: TikTok user “Zenith,” an individual living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, posted in August that he was treated like “absolute garbage” while working at Goodwill. Despite this, his post said that Goodwill made him sign a waiver that would allow the nonprofit to use him for advertisement purposes. This is not the first time Goodwill has come into the public eye for its treatment of disabled workers. In 2013, Forbes reported on the issue, pointing to Sheila Leigland, a blind Goodwill employee in Great Falls, Montana, who was being paid $3.99 an hour. The minimum wage at the time there was $7.65.

The company is working to improve mainstream perception of this controversial pay model for disabled employees, which nonetheless some disability activists applaud. From Wikipedia: Terry Farmer, CEO of ACCSES, a trade group that calls itself the "voice of disability service providers", said scrapping the provision could "force [disabled workers] to stay at home", enter rehabilitation, "or otherwise engage in unproductive and unsatisfactory activities". Goodwill believes that the policy is "a tool to create employment for people with disabilities" who would not otherwise be employed. Goodwill notes that "Eliminating it would remove an important tool for employers and an employment option available to people with severe disabilities and their families. Without the law, many people with disabilities could lose their jobs."

Incidentally, paying less than the minimum wage as they have is not illegal: Under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, organizations can obtain a "special wage certificate" to pay workers with disabilities a commensurate wage based on performance evaluations. An estimated 8% of Goodwill's employees are paid under the special wage certificate program, also per Wikipedia.

Goodwill is reevaluating all options when it comes to company pay, including that of executives.

A host of other ongoing company controversies are featured on the Goodwill Industries Wikipedia page, which also lists a widespread sweeping change since the height of COVID-19: Donation policies of individual locations have changed. Many locations are now only accepting donations on selected days in order to keep up with the surplus of supplies they are receiving and to get a chance to properly sanitize the stores.

My earlier linked article on Goodwill Industries featured this clip from Cracked.com: An April, 2022 article published by Cracked.com, “15 Things Goodwill Has Done (That Aren't Widely Known),” has received some recent attention for calling old controversies to the fore. As excerpted from the article: While their workers toil for little more than ramen and cardboard box money, Goodwill executives routinely earn salaries in the mid six figures. After one CEO was fired precisely because of his outrageous compensation package, which included a country club membership, he still managed to negotiate a $600,000 severance.

My previous article listed reasons for company closures, and fact-checked rumors of those in the future. The company has expressed expansion plans, but those plans are only partially of the brick and mortar variety. ShopGoodwill.com is the company’s e-Commerce division, a relatively new company priority. See eCommerceBytes.com’s piece from April, 2022, “Goodwill Takes Thrift Shopping Mobile, Eyes Digital Goods,” which elaborates on the entity’s digital plans.

Indeed, there is an agenda behind this new push to digital, according to the article’s quoting of a company spokesperson: “What makes the site different than other online secondhand platforms,” according to the spokesperson, “is that ShopGoodwill isn’t satisfying stakeholders or investors. Instead, the site and mobile app are purpose driven, and revenue goes to the Goodwill network’s mission work – helping people find jobs.”

Conclusion

As I had discussed in a prior article about Salvation Army thrift shops, Goodwill Industries is likewise a global non-profit organization, and as overseas economic volatility mirrors our national economic state, the changes heretofore listed are expected to be widespread.

I will post any updates on the matter as they happen, here on NewsBreak.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

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