Former Goodwill employees allege poor work conditions

In Local News, News
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.

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  • Cindi Pendergrass

    This story is so unsettling. Another huge entity that is taking advantage of the working people that have helped it become the giant that it is. I understand raise freezes in this economy, but 5 years is a long time making $8.15/hour without even a cost of living raise. Then they give out a $0.12/hour raise and that is supposed to be acceptable? Really? That is a slap in the face to all the hardworking people at Goodwill. That CEO needs a refresher course on just exactly why Goodwill was created in the first place. Back when Goodwill was started I am sure the goal was not to have a select top few making enormous salaries and the workers being treated as expendable labor. I will certainly re-think any donations to Goodwill in the future.

  • Judith Mac Arthur

    I will NEVER set foot in one of their stores ever again! It is my opinion that they are opportunistic and take advantage of the disabled workers, as well as the able bodied ones and could care less about any of their well beings.
    At one point in my life, I thought that I would try to apply for employment there as well in the San Diego area.
    I went to one of Goodwill’s, group interviews. I consider it a BLESSING that I was not hired, knowing that they are paying their employees below poverty level and also that they add duties, such as picking up excrement on the outside of their buildings. Another reason I am thankful for not being hired is that from what I have heard from former Goodwill employees, on the the internet, was that bonuses that hard working people deserved had been taken away after accolade had been bestowed upon the store for which they had worked. They really know how to kick people to the curb, with their mental cruelty.
    As far as mental cruelty is concerned, I believe that when a company feels that it must search their employees, at the end of the day, this tells me that they do not trust their own judgement of whom they hired. Employers who are corrupt, will mistrust their own employees. Why is this? The people in charge of hiring for the company have NO INTEGRITY. They probably do not know what the word means.
    This NON-PROFIT organization pays their upper management too much! It is my belief that they should be paid less, in order to pay their HARD WORKING store employees more!
    I am outraged that this organization, who claims, it is non-profit, is still in business, after all of it’s deviant practices of letting full time employees go, so that they can open up more store and eliminate their benefits, the medical benefits that they had to pay for out of their meager incomes.

  • Susan Helberg

    I also a former employee of Goodwill Orange County,love this article, Let the truth finally be known that goodwill treats the management staff and “all” employees like criminals.
    I was by a told by a Goodwill employee that after this artical was released,” that ALL employees were asked to sign a letter stating that NO employees were to talk to the press and if they did ” they would get FIRED!”
    So, What happen to the constitutional right ” freedom of speech”

    I too believe everything that former employee Bonnie Hodgkins and Mike have stated. I was a employee for about 3 years and saw first hand the mistreatment of employees and all unprofessional things happenining there,I reported these things to Loss prevention and NOTHING ever was done.(loss prevention just swept it under the rug)I want to thank the author of this article for fInally getting the truth out about what employees of Goodwill Orange County have to deal with on a daily basis.

  • Mama Guarneros

    Everything that is written in this article…100% true. Worked for Goodwill Industries at one of the retail locations. The associates and management team work so hard. And yes, they expected alot out of us. I always felt under appreciated with this company. Just when you thought your team did well, it was never good enough. Never the positive..always the negative.

    People steal alot from the store..seen it everyday. Nothing we could do about it. Except watch them go out the front door. So the same people kept back coming in, cause nothing was done.

    They have no trust in their workers. Searching our pockets..and those clear purses ..was afraid they might think that hand lotion, pen, or that book you brought to read in on your lunch break was theirs. So just stopped carrying the purse in all.

  • :(

    I started working here(ND Goodwill) and the breakroom is SUPER dirty, crumbs all over, open katsup packets that have exploded all over the table. the floor is just nasty. I havent built up the courage to risk going in the bathroom yet.

  • Kathy B

    I can not thank you enough for publishing this article. During my employment with GW I was also subject to abuse (getting blown-up-on on many occasions) lies and bad management. I can honestly say that everything mentioned in this article (and comments) is true to a T.

    As far as treating their employees like criminals: one time our store was robbed, but the cameras were directly over the till pointing straight down into the till to monitor the cashiers, therefore, the robbers face was never caught on camera.

    The disabled: Goodwill has replaced their textile hangers with disabled, under the “job training” cloak. Why? Simple economics. Textiles are GW’s biggest money maker (hanging roughly $30,000 in donated clothes a week). GoodWill’s payoff? Buy getting a couple handicapped people to do this job they can bump a couple of fulltime employees off the store payroll because they are legally allowed to pay the disabled less than minimum wage. GW loves to promote the “job training” image but these disabled never really do anything but hang clothes in the back all day. There is no customer service training or cash handling training, which are essential experiences on any retail resume.

    The directors and executives: never step foot in the stores but collect outrageous salaries built on our blood, sweat, and tears (I have seen all three).

    What you can do: Provide people with contact information to their local mens/womens/childrens/homeless shelters. These places typically pick up items that people are willing give away for free (i.e. left-over yardsale items). These items go directly to those who genuinely need them, rather than going through a Goodwill middleman executive who will mark them up to line their own pocketbooks.


  • Katherine Ransom

    Speaking on behalf of Goodwill of Orange County, we are disturbed by this article in the Daily Titan. And we are further concerned that despite submitting an official “Letter to the Editor” for online publication, we have so far been ignored and our response not published. We are grateful, then, for the opportunity to at least respond via this Comment Board.
    To begin with, we are alarmed that the Titan Editorial Board would print a one-sided story featuring very slanderous accusations without interviewing a representative from Goodwill. This reporter failed to check the accuracy of her sources, and did not give Goodwill the opportunity to respond to allegations. My name, email and phone number are clearly posted on our website as a source for all media inquiries. We are also in constant contact with journalists and bloggers on a weekly basis.
    As for the content itself, the reporter chose to use reproachful anecdotal incidents and, in several instances, makes statements that are either false or demonstrate a lack of understanding of our operations. Our operations are, in fact, very transparent and a single interview with Goodwill would have clarified and changed the tone of this article completely. This simply shows no respect or deference to Goodwill of Orange County. At no time does the author question the motives behind the anonymous “Mike”.
    In addition, there is an ethical concern to consider. In addition to not trying to avoid inadvertent errors, the Daily Titan violated HIPPA ( privacy rules by disclosing a former program participant’s name. The participant named was not an employee, but participating in a productivity program that focuses on the individual ability of each participant.
    We question why the Daily Titan would choose to attack us in the first place. Even apart from our popular store at College Plaza, we remain highly involved with the university on multiple levels. We are asked to participate in research studies for graduate-level studies. We have a number of professional staff who are alumni and supporters of Cal State Fullerton, including our President and CEO Frank Talarico, Jr. who is also a CSUF alumnus and will be lecturing at the Gianneschi Center for Nonprofit Research this summer.
    Ultimately, we can hope your readers will want to hear/read our specific responses to these harsh accusations before making any judgments about our operations and employee practices. Even more importantly, we hope that a school as highly regarded at Cal State Fullerton University will take the appropriate steps in ensuring its student reporters learn their practice with greater journalistic integrity.

  • ozzy felon

    Fuck goodwill. I worked there for a year and their program sucks hella. They take even more advantage of temporary employees that come from staffing agencies.

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