More “Industry” than “Goodwill”
Goodwill Industries, Inc. proselytizes for the protestant work ethic

By Fhar Miess
The Alarm! Newspaper Collective
December 21, 2002

In 1902, a Methodist minister named Edgar J. Helms in Boston’s South End founded an organization that gathered used household items and apparel from well-to-do neighborhoods to be repaired by impoverished and immigrant individuals. The repaired goods were then resold or given to the people who mended them. The idea was to provide the economically disadvantaged with gainful employment giving them, according to that organization’s credo: “a hand-up, not a handout.”

In 1910, the organization was formally incorporated and dubbed Morgan Memorial Cooperative Industries and Stores, Inc. Its name was later changed to Goodwill Industries, Inc. The philosophy behind Goodwill Industries is that human empowerment and dignity is achieved primarily through “The Power of Work” (one of Goodwill Industries’ core public values), a philosophy which points to its Protestant roots.

Goodwill toward Santa Cruz
Locally, this ethic translates into job training programs through Shoreline Occupational Services, a project of Goodwill Industries of Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties, Inc. The local Goodwill is one of 208 autonomous member organizations that make up Goodwill Industries International. Shoreline Occupational Services provides training in office and computer skills, cosmetology (through what was previously Wayne’s College of Beauty in downtown Santa Cruz, acquired by Goodwill in October of 2001), culinary arts (through its Conference Center in Marina) and retail.

According to Jay Dravich, Director of Marketing and Development for the local Goodwill Industries, the organization anticipates that by year’s end, they will have helped 1,500 people improve their skills and find employment. He notes that this project is financed through the collection and sale of used goods at the company’s 13 retail stores. On the whole, the Goodwill Industries network comprises some 1,900 retail outlets, making the non-profit corporation one of the nation’s largest retailers. Revenue generated by Goodwill Industries organizations fell just shy of $2 billion in 2001. The local Goodwill Industries brought in almost $10 million in 1998. Most of this revenue comes from the resale of donated goods (the rest primarily coming from private donations and public grants) and, since Goodwill Industries is organized as a non-profit, all of it is tax-free. Dravich and Goodwill Industries literature boast that 86% of revenues across the international Goodwill network is spent on its programs.

What they don’t mention is that nearly all of those programs are themselves revenue-generating. In 1998, Santa Cruz Goodwill Industries’ vocational services brought in over $1 million. Goodwill also considers its retail stores to be training programs. Locally, those 13 stores generated over $6 million in revenues in 1998. The Bargain Barn, Santa Cruz’s most well-known Goodwill store, brings in between $1,000 and $3,000 per day, according to staff. In fact, the 86% figure has more to do with the intricacies of non-profit tax law than with Goodwill Industry’s committment to its non-profit mission.

So what is this money spent on? The vast majority of it, $5.7 million in 1998, is spent on salaries and wages for Goodwill Industries employees, most of whom it appears to classify as either agents or clients of their vocational programs. Almost 6% of this went towards the salaries for the five most highly-paid executives. Michael Paul, the company’s President and CEO, reeled in over $121,000 in direct and indirect compensation. In contrast, with a starting wage of around $7.00 per hour (a wage Dravich referred to as “competitive”) for Bargain Barn employees and less for others, Goodwill’s non-management retail employees earn less than $17,000 per year.

While Dravich recognizes that this is not a living wage in Santa Cruz, he counters that some vocational training and experience can be gained working in Goodwill Industries’ retail facilities. Some employees are offered an eight-hour day comprised of six hours of sorting and hanging clothing and two hours of training and counseling. For most, especially those at the Bargain Barn, “there’s some vocational experience…because they’re learning how to get along with a supervisor and clock in on time,” according to Dravich.

Barn Sickness
When asked about the working conditions at the Bargain Barn, Dravich responded, “The working conditions at the Barn are such that it requires a unique kind of human being.” William DiFede is apparently not that “unique kind of human being.” He lasted at the Bargain Barn about three months. He reports that because of all the dust from old clothing and used household goods, he was sick most of the time that he was there. “They [co-workers] call it ‘Barn Sick,’” he says. “All of them said, ‘Oh you’ll stop getting sick after a while,’ but they were all sick all the time, too.…[The management] would give us dust masks but they didn’t give me gloves for two weeks. We have to handle broken glass with our hands,” he says.

The dust was not the only problem. Lack of ventilation during the summer or heat during the winter are also cited as consistent complaints. Harassment by customers was another significant problem. According to DiFede, “It’s very taxing because people are really awful to you.” He claims that customers would routinely accuse him and other employees of stealing. “Some [charges of stealing] were ridiculous, like ‘You’re stealing all the designer hand-bags!’,” he says. When asked about employee theft, Goodwill Industries’ Dravich didn’t seem to consider it much of a problem. “Our employees understand for the most part that the money we earn is going to help somebody climb out of serious poverty,” he says.

DiFede also claimed to be the subject of sexual harassment from customers. “They mostly liked me just because I was the new guy. I was the ‘Barn Stud.’ I had people grab my ass and stuff,” he says.

All in all, DiFede did not describe his Bargain Barn experience as the positive, stimulating work environment that Dravich painted. According to Dravich, Goodwill is “not offering charity, we offer people a chance for economic independence.” But rather than finding dignity through work, DiFede found relief in quitting. After leaving the Bargain Barn, friends and former coworkers noted that the color came back to his face and he began smiling again.

The Beneficiaries
Still, as much resentment as some might have against Goodwill and the Bargain Barn, whether as an employee coughing up black phlegm from the dust or a customer miffed by the institution of an admission fee (a change welcomed by employees who were sick of being run over by overly-exuberant shoppers at opening time), no one wants to see the Bargain Barn go away. Recent talk of taking over Goodwill Industries property in the Harvey West neighborhood in order to make room for more Metro transit facilities generated considerable popular resistance and a flurry of support for the Barn.

There are genuine beneficiaries of Goodwill Industries and its retail establishments. We all benefit collectively from the annual diversion of some six million pounds of consumer goods from Santa Cruz and Monterey county landfills. Of this, 20 truckloads are sold every month to recycling and salvaging companies.

Standing in front of the Bargain Barn at 350 Encinal Street, one can watch Goodwill Industries beneficiaries file in and out of the store with armloads of cheap goods. Many are low-income folks with few other options for buying basic clothing and durable household goods. Many are artists and crafty types who go to the Barn for raw materials to be made into art pieces and re-purposed crafts. Another group are the small-time capitalists who buy cheap at the Barn and sell dear (sort of) at the Flea Market, garage sales and other venues. Staff estimate that over a hundred such people would be without a livelihood if the Barn were to disappear.

The latter group are interesting in that they mirror the capitalist practices of Goodwill Industries, but their work ethic runs counter to the one espoused by the company. The vision statement of the organization reads, “We at Goodwill Industries will be satisfied only when every person in the global community has the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential as an individual and to participate and contribute fully in all aspects of a productive life.” While there is plenty of buying and selling going on at Goodwill stores, flea markets and garage sales, there is little, if anything, to suggest “a productive life.” Little is being produced except surplus value of profit, which inevitably comes at the expense of people lower in the economic hierarchy.

Also benefiting from Goodwill Industries, as mentioned before, are the executives running the company. While, as a non-profit, Goodwill Industries has no shareholders and is not legally permitted to compensate its board of directors except for expenses directly related to the fulfillment of their board duties, it is allowed to—and does—compensate its executive management quite handsomely. Already mentioned was the over $121,000 in direct and indirect compensation awarded to Michael Paul, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties, Inc. Higher in the corporate hierarchy, Samuel Cox, Vice President of Goodwill Industries International, Inc. brought in $232,071 in 2001, while George Kessinger, the company’s president brought in $192,386.

Private industry also benefits from Goodwill Industries, most directly due to partnerships and contracted work. The company has formed partnerships with Bank of America, CVS/Pharmacy and the US Department of Labor for the 2000 Census. Ostensibly, these partnerships and contracts are meant to provide job training and placement for disadvantaged workers, but they also provide these firms with cheap, pliable labor. Goodwill’s list of “employers we love” includes 3M (which employs Goodwill workers in the production of sticky notes for the federal government) and Sara Lee Hosiery. The company also contracts with a Daimler Chrysler/Jeep assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, where Goodwill workers sort auto parts before they are sent to the plant. Goodwill Industries is on a list of the plant’s top-five suppliers. “When the Jeep plant runs, we run,” says Susanne Fredericks, Goodwill Contracts and Procurement Manager.

Something that may surprise a number of our readers is that the Pentagon and the various arms of the US Military and Intelligence community are also substantial beneficiaries of Goodwill Industries. 62 Goodwill workers, the majority of whom are disabled, are employed through custodial, laundry and switchboard operation contracts at the US Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia. The base houses operations for the Drug Enforcement Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation. In Charleston, South Carolina, Goodwill Industries supplies a food service contract to the Navy Nuclear Power School. Miami Goodwill daily manufactures 600 US flags, 1,300 camouflage battle dress uniform trousers, 400 cold-weather jackets and 240 cold-weather overalls for the US military. When George W. Bush appointed Gordon England as the second in command (Deputy Director) at the new Department of Homeland Security last month, news stories emphasized his posts within the military (Bush had previously appointed him as Secretary of the Navy), in the corporate world and as a former Vice-Chair on the Board of Directors at Goodwill Industries, Inc.

In October of 2001, Dennis Pastrana, CEO of that same Miami Goodwill Industries, had a man named Michael Italie fired for being a “subversive” element in the company. Pastrana, a Cuban exile, was quoted in the Miami Herald as saying, “We cannot have anyone who is attempting to subvert the United States of America. His political beliefs are those of a communist who would like to destroy private ownership of American enterprises and install a communist regime in the United States.” Pastrana fired Italie, who was running for mayor in Miami on the Socialist Workers Party ticket, shortly after a televised debate took place in which Italie had spoken approvingly of Fidel Castro’s Communist regime in Cuba. Italie had not engaged in any political activity on the job.

Whatever we may think of Goodwill’s militarily and economically soiled hands, what should not pass unexamined is the organization’s commitment to a bootstrap ethic. Roughly, “bootstrapism” can be defined as the belief that any person, with sufficient effort, can improve their situation, no matter what it is (as in “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps”). This ethic ignores the role of systemic oppression in maintaining social and economic hierarchies. Indeed, Goodwill Industries, Inc. seems very much invested in those institutions that effect that oppression: large corporations and military forces. While Goodwill Industries executives may not see the non-profit as a charitable organization, it fulfills many of the same roles as most charities, including the role of ameliorating certain woes of poverty without challenging the economic institutions and relationships that produce poverty and economic stratification. As seen at the Bargain Barn, Goodwill Industries may even be mirroring some of those same relationships. Jay Dravich himself refers to Goodwill Industries as “a boot camp for entry-level employment.”

So long as Goodwill Industries remains committed to “The Power of [entry-level] Work” and “[entry-level] productive life” as the primary sources of self-empowerment and self-worth, its clients will be stuck in the dead-end of a capitalist economy. It is an economy where we are made to feel grateful—as one Diana Jacobs of Tacoma, Washington did—after receiving an “Achiever of the Year” award from Goodwill for showing up to work just hours after suffering a massive stroke in order to keep a job sorting and hanging clothes. If this is what counts as achievement, I’ll pass, thanks.

If you want to find an alternative to Goodwill Industries to donate used goods, consider any of the following: Santa Cruz Drop-In Center, Defensa de Mujeres, Walnut Avenue Womens’ Center, or the Homeless Services Resource Center. If you want to help the employees of the Bargain Barn, treat them nicely (which doesn’t include grabbing their bottoms), bring them a flower, a few kind words, a smile, even. You can also direct your comments about their working conditions to Goodwill Industries’ Director of Human Resources, James Howley at 831-423-8611.

Hey, Was That My T-Shirt?

Ever wonder what happens to all those old t-shirts you donate to places like Goodwill and Salvation Army? Ever wonder why those pictures you see of poverty-stricken Africans always depict kids in Hard Rock Cafe and heavy metal band t-shirts? Yes, there is a connection, and filmmaker Shantha Bloemen got an itch to figure out just what it is.

What she discovered—and what she shares with us in her film, T-Shirt Travels—is that companies like Goodwill Industries (see article) and Salvation Army will sell unsold textiles and shoes to salvage companies who will sort them by quality. The lower-quality goods will be shipped in containers to African countries where importers will sell them at three to four times what they paid for them.

She also discovered that this process has helped decimate local economies. Mark O’Donnell, a Zambian businessman and the spokesperson for the Zambian Manufacturers Association, noted that since trade liberalization went forward in 1991, “[e]very single clothing factory in Zambia went out of business; we do not have a clothing industry left in the country because the secondhand clothes are coming in.”

The film explores the perils of World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies and examines a poorly understood facet of global trade.

T-Shirt Travels airs on KQED on January 5 at 6 p.m.