Former Goodwill employees allege poor work conditions

Anibal Ortiz / Daily Titan

 

 

Goodwill of Orange County, which prides itself as being a service to the public, has been viewed by some as not living up to its own message. Some who have worked as employees for the company believe that Goodwill has mistreated its employees with poor pay, poor janitorial care and a general mistrust.

According to its website, Goodwill of Orange County is comprised of more than 35 stores and donation centers, and one of its goals is to “promote self-reliance and well-being at every touch point of the organization. We believe in the power of work; it provides a pathway to independence.”

Goodwill of Orange County, which opened in 1924, currently employs more than 900 people and has an annual budget of more than $78 million, according to its website.

However, not much of the revenue goes to employees, said Bonnie Hodgkins, a former employee of Goodwill.

“(Goodwill) always paid so below the bar … Everyone was living below the poverty level. There were people working there (for) five to seven years still making $8.15 an hour … people with families,” Hodgkins said.

Another source, “Mike,” said employees of Goodwill were informed about five years ago that a freeze in hourly pay came as a result of economic difficulties at the time.

However, since the pay freeze, Mike also said, there has been a construction of five new Goodwill locations and a new gym for the disabled.

The new locations were opened as a method of aiding the public, Goodwill stated in an annual report. According to the report, the new location “further enabled us to create new jobs and provide a way for budget-conscious families to stretch their shopping dollars.”

The new location would create new jobs, the report said, and went on to say that “through job creation and other paths to independence, we are in essence refueling the local economy. This seemingly simple act of getting or keeping a job has an ever-widening ripple effect as the lives of families, neighborhoods and businesses are transformed.”

But while 90 percent of Goodwill’s total revenue last year was used for public support programs and services, some say that the distribution of wealth among the company could be better, considering that the most current available data for pay for the Goodwill CEO stands at more than $250,000 a year, according to Charity Navigator.

According to Mike, revenue has always been very important for the company.

“They were starting to go to hiring just only part time. That way they were able to not offer paid holidays or paid vacations of any sort. Here they are again not giving back to the community but actually taking, and taking advantage of people,” said Hodgkins.

Mike said full-time employees like himself worked 40 hours a week and were sometimes asked to work seven, eight or nine days in a row. Additionally, employees of Goodwill were expected to sell an extraordinary amount for the store while being paid very little.

“The cashiers have no control on how much people buy …” said Mike. “The regular little workers make hardly anything and they expect an awful lot out of them.”

If met, these expectations would lead to a bonus of $75 that month for the employee, Mike said, but the bonus would not be offered to the store if regular repairs needed to be done, which made the bonus very difficult to obtain.

“At that rate of pay, you look forward to that bonus … you need those bonuses to just live,” he said.

Another thing that concerned Mike was the cleanliness of the various locations he worked in.

He said regular janitors were not available and the employees of the stores were expected to clean restrooms and other parts of the stores besides their regular duties. Since the only pay raise he received was $0.12 after working there almost five years, Mike feels as though these duties were too much. He worked 40 hours a week accepting donations for the store, and said that on several occasions he was expected to clean human excrement in the alleyways of the store until he refused to do it.

“If it’s (inside the store), fine, that is in my job description, but (outside the store is) not,” Mike said, adding that appropriate cleaning materials were rarely available. “I put up with a lot with that company, so much (that) it’s hard for me to believe.”

Many employees were also regularly searched as a method of controlling employee theft in the stores.

“Everybody had to carry clear purses. You had to have your pockets checked and your purse checked every time you left the store, (and) at any given time there were these random checks at the end of the night … Out comes loss-prevention personnel and they’d just check everybody … and this is an ongoing thing … (They) were very distrusting of their employees, to the point (that) they were fanatics,” Hodgkins said.

The Goodwill employee handbook states, “For general security reasons, management reserves the right to conduct inspections of all work and non-work areas … including, but not limited to, purses, briefcases, packages and vehicles … These inspections and searches may occur at any time without prior notice.”

These searches, Mike said, do not address the real problem.

“There is so much theft from the general public, but basically they spend most of their time examining the employees. They’re so concerned with the employee theft that they miss all the real theft that goes on every day from the general public and they don’t do much about it at all,” Mike said.

Karen Belan, a former employee who has cerebral palsy, said working at the Goodwill was made difficult for her since she was paid based on how much she produced in assembly, but is unable to move the entire left side of her body.

(Other employees) were getting more money for the simple fact (that) they were able to move faster with two hands. I was at a disadvantage — I couldn’t help it,” Belan said.

Belan, who is now at a community center for disabled seniors, said she was not paid for downtime, so she decided to quit.

“If they gave me at least $5 a day just for showing up — because I rode the city bus — I would stay, but no, during downtime you didn’t get a penny. Work … was a penny a label, and I did not appreciate it, so I just quit,” she said.

After speaking to management, Belan was told, “That’s all we can pay.”

According to Goodwill’s website, “Program participants are paid for their work based on their level of productivity and ability (we focus on a person’s ability, not their disability).”

Mike, however, said he witnessed and disagreed with some treatment toward the disabled.

“They were doing time studies on the disabled … and the ones that weren’t hanging clothes fast enough were getting a dollar an hour taken off their pay wage …” he said. “That made me sick. I thought, ‘This whole company is supposed to be about them. How could you take away their wages?’”

Hodgkins said the image of working for the disabled is used solely as a means to maintain the company’s status as a nonprofit.

About Andrea Ayala

Andie is a Print Journalism major and French minor who proudly serves the Daily Titan this semester for her third attempt at becoming half as talented as her Daily Titan peers. When she is not in the newsroom, she is at the SORC desk working or at the Gastronome, which she thoroughly loves. This semester, she is excited to start an internship with the OC Register, to be a part of Tusk magazine, as well as work hard to improve the Daily Titan as Content Editor. Little known fact about her: She spent her first semester at the Daily Titan at what is known as “the other side” (Advertising). Andie loves: traveling, languages, reading, movies and writing. She also enjoys: excessive sarcasm, snide remarks and long walks on the beach. Her plans for the future include visiting every continent, learning Arabic and catching a live karaoke performance of “Africa” by Alvan and Ian.