Goodwill reverses plan to end paychecks to disabled workers

2019-07-19 | Point Pleasant Register (W. Va.)

July 18-- Jul. 18--NORMAL -- Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries, which operates stores in several communities, including Normal, Lincoln and Clinton, has backed away from plans to lay off workers with disabilities in the wake of negative reactions.

"The outpouring of comments regarding our decision to refocus the Vocational Rehab program and its impact on 12 program participants has caused us to take pause," Sharon Durbin, president and CEO of Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries, said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "While we must be good stewards of our nonprofit, we must remain sharply focused on our mission."

Durbin had initially cited changes in the state minimum wage law in explaining layoffs and possible future job cuts, according to a story reported by WCIA-TV and the State Journal-Register in Springfield.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, on Wednesday called on Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou to review taxpayer-funded contracts between the state and Land of Lincoln Goodwill. He maintained his stance in a Twitter post even after the company announced its reversal.

"The behavior of Land of Lincoln Goodwill and its director in the last 72 hours are why I asked for a full review and that hasn't changed," he said in a phone call to Capitol News Illinois.

Fifty people with intellectual disabilities are supported by the vocational rehabilitation program, Land of Lincoln Goodwill said.

Patrick Anderson, vice president of marketing and communications, said under the original plan, "which was not a good decision on our part," 12 individuals in the job skills training program would have stopped receiving paychecks, although they would have remained in the program.

But in Wednesday's statement, Durbin said, "Our recent decision regarding the Voc Rehab program and the resulting harm it might have caused falls short of living up to our mission and we apologize for this error in judgment."

Durbin said the affected participants would return with pay to their part-time skills training program.

"I am committed to exploring how the state's new minimum wage law can help raise up those we serve as well as the 400 employees in our organization," she said.

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Anderson said the changes in the minimum wage law would have a cumulative impact of $8.2 million by 2025 unless changes are made. That could affect "the whole viability" of the organization, he said.

For now, the organization plans to "go back to the status quo as before" but look for ways to "become a more efficient operation" and for "new ideas and ways to increase our revenue."

Land of Lincoln Goodwill received $689,000 in state funding in the fiscal year that ended June 30, mostly from the Department of Human Services, according to state records cited by the State Journal Register.

Anderson said he did not have an exact figure for the amount of state reimbursement the organization receives but said, "After reimbursement from the state, the program still costs us over $500,00 a year."

The reimbursement partially covers the costs of support personnel such as "qualified intellectual disabilities professionals" and a nurse on staff and others "required to be on site there to care for and support the participants," explained Anderson.

Meghan Powers, a spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, said IDHS's "top priority" is to "ensure that the hardworking employees with disabilities at the Land of Lincoln Goodwill stores are employed and appropriately supported."

"While we are pleased that it appears Land of Lincoln Goodwill has reversed their decision in this matter, IDHS remains committed to ensuring the organization is fully compliant with state law and the mission of our agency through our agreements," she said. "We are in the process of carefully examining and reviewing our agreements with Goodwill, and we are prepared to exercise any and all rights to ensure workers are protected."

Legislators also took umbrage with Durbin's salary, which was $164,849 in the fiscal year ending June 2018, according to federal forms. WCIA also reported Durbin's son, Brian Durbin, was hired by the company at a salary of $95,747.

Mike Egbert, board president of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living, said the Goodwill revelations give a "black eye" to social service agencies, as he criticized "nepotism" hires and CEO raises during a period in which most social service agencies were "just struggling to get by."

Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota

Capitol News Illinois reporter Jerry Nowicki contributed to this story.