This summer’s negative publicity has caused some fundraising concerns at the local Goodwill operation and helped fuel criticism from competitors of its latest venture: a $14 million healthcare laundry that has already prompted one existing facility to announce layoffs over contracts lost to the charity.
Goodwill is pledging to forgo the federal program and pay all 200 workers at its new laundry near Liberty City at least $9 an hour. The non-profit sees the modern facility as meeting a need for South Florida’s expanding healthcare industry. Goodwill laundry facilities in Colorado and Virginia do use the federal program to pay less, and the practice has brought accusations of unfair competition.
“We feel on a level playing field we can compete with any of the players out there,” said Christian Luneburg, vice president of Florida Linen Services in Pompano Beach, which plans to dismiss 20 workers once the University of Miami hospital system shifts its business to the cheaper price offered at the Goodwill facility.
“We know that if Goodwill is able to have lower labor costs it allows them to charge significantly less per pound,” Luneburg said. “That is something we won’t be able to compete with.”
Pastrana said the efficiency of a modern, largely computer-automated system will make the Goodwill laundry competitive even while paying well above minimum wage. He noted that other Goodwill enterprises, including the one that runs the advertising-insert operation for Miami Herald Media Company, operate without using the minimum-wage waiver for disabled workers.
Goodwill holds janitorial contracts with Miami-Dade County, and its workers with disabilities who clean buses and office buildings are covered by the county’s living-wage ordinance. If Goodwill can wrest the Jackson Health System account from Florida Linen, its laundry workers would be covered by the same law. Goodwill says the janitorial teams they send into federal buildings in the Miami area also earn at least the minimum wage.
Why can Goodwill run some operations with disabled workers who are productive enough to earn at least minimum wage, while paying an average hourly rate below $5 for so many manufacturing workers?
Federal records show a range of disabilities and pay on the garment-factory floor, including $1.01 an hour for someone with mental retardation and $6.47 for someone with a depressive disorder and hypertension.
Goodwill executives say the manufacturing operation is better suited for people with more extensive disabilities, because the non-profit can make space for a worker to perform even the most rote tasks (such as marking a button hole with a pen). The divisions paying at least minimum wage, the executives said, generally require skills or productivity that make it too difficult to employ people with the kind of disabilities that would have them qualify for lower pay.
At the commercial laundry, workers will unload trucks packed with sheets, gowns and blankets, sort them by type on a conveyor belt, and feed dry linens into automatic ironing and folding machines. “This is perfect for what we do at Goodwill,” general manager David Graumlich said while standing beside one of the folding machines. “It’s repetitive. It’s stationary. It’s ergonomic.”