America was founded on a principle of fairness where those who work earn a salary, and hopefully, a living salary. We live in a country well-known for being a bastion of opportunity. Our Founding Fathers spoke graciously of this idea, especially hard work. George Washington once said that “a people… who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and who will pursue their advantages may achieve almost anything.” That’s why our Founders believed in the free market, in the ingenuity of the human mind, and in man’s determination for a vast and rich economy.
They believed that if one sets his or her mind to making a living, let alone prosper economically, he or she will succeed.
At least that’s what our country likes to believe. After all, these are our founding values which honestly don’t reflect our reality. There is a significant sect from our workforce – 18.7 percent – that is certainly not treated in the way that our Founders believed. They are being treated unfairly because of who they are as individuals.
These are our disabled friends, neighbors, parents, brothers and sisters, who today may earn as little as 22 cents an hour for a job that average Americans are required by law to make at least $7.25 an hour.
Goodwill, a charitable and tax-exempt industry, is one of those companies that takes advantage of their disabled employees. They pay the disabled dismal wages as little as 22, 38 and 41 cents. While their company props $4 billion, they refuse to pay good wages.
However, this all legal. Under Section 14(c) of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, companies can apply to pay their employees with disabilities less than what the minimum wage requires. They asses this according to “the work being performed.” For example, Goodwill evaluates their employees by giving them a stopwatch to analyze how fast they are at hanging clothes around their stores.
Americans got a glimpse of this type of “evaluation” from anchorman Brian Williams. His news team reported on a disabled couple that works at Goodwill and feels highly scrutinized for the work they do. For instance, Goodwill employee Harold Leigland used to make $5.46 an hour, but due to Goodwill’s “time study,” his wage dropped to $4.37. Leigland says that “sometimes the test is easier than others. It depends on if, as near as I can figure, they want your wage to go up or down. It’s that simple.”
Is this right? Should the disabled earn less than regular Americans?
I believe not. As much as we, conservatives, despise government regulation, we also strive for human decency both towards the born and the unborn. As a pro-lifer who believes that all life should be valued in society, people like Harold should deserve the same kind of respect and treatment from our government that I received while earning a minimum wage as a student worker at Knox College.
Our government needs to change. Laws are meant to change according to the wisdom of the populace. Edmund Burke understood it very well that the greatest law of nature is change, “where all we can do, and that human wisdom can do, is to provide that the change shall proceed by insensible degrees.” He knew that society changes and that the law should change as well.
Harold’s story should must change. Just like our country rightfully changed with the series of civil rights laws to address the racial disparity between blacks and whites, there needs to be a different civil rights act that sets the lives of the disabled on par with regular Americans.
This is the United States of America; a country that values equal opportunity like our Founders. However, as I watched and read NBC’s reporting, I felt deceived as an American. I felt lied to about our own values.
If we do stand for equal opportunity and hard work as our Founders believed then we ought to practice it within our society and especially within the scope of our laws. It doesn’t matter what race, ability, gender, or sexual orientation, we are all Americans.
It’s time to strengthen our founding values and live up to what we believe.