Note: I wrote and published the article below in December of 2012. Perhaps NBC has gotten the message because they finally addressed the issues I brought up. Kudos to the journalists at NBC for coming to the realization that they were taken for a ride by Goodwill’s massive public relations machine:
I just watched a segment on the NBC nightly news where anchor, Brian Williams, ended his broadcast with a story of “treasures” found by lucky shoppers at Goodwill thrift stores. The piece featured the saga of Karen Mallet who wandered into a Goodwill store in Milwaukee and spend just under $13 for a lithograph by Alexander Calder. Turns out the artwork was worth about $12,000. He then mentioned other valuable artwork which sold online for prices ranging to over $150,000. He did not emphasize that subsequent items he described were not found by customers but by Goodwill employees who turned them over to their online sales department.
The whole impetus of the piece was something to the effect of: “Hey, folks! Rush on down to Goodwill! Thar’s treasures a waitin’!” I hate to bust anyone’s bubble out there because we all like to fantasize about a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but, truthfully, you have about as much chance of finding an item of significant value at a Goodwill store as you have of picking five sequential number in the lottery.
This piece of deceptive journalism was little more than Mr. Williams holding out a carrot in front of a donkey. How many unsuspecting dolts and rubes who saw this “news” report will rush over to their nearest Goodwill with delusions of stumbling upon priceless treasures…only to find endless piles of plastic knick knacks, scratched up LP records, boxes full of cassette and video tapes, and serviceable but overpriced used clothing and furniture? Let’s not forget the huge selection of exciting romance novels, out-of-date textbooks, baseball hats, cheap toys, and used shoes.
I guess that I am being a little harsh. There are thousands of freestanding Goodwill stores all over the country now, some good, some better, and some quite bad. Goodwill has been very busy in the last decade in a process of rebranding. Much of that process involves construction of expensive new buildings very similar in appearance, using the same or similar construction materials, display racks, interior design, etc.
And…all important…the donation drive-thru. So quick! So convenient!
These buildings are expensive to operate. Imagine the electric bill alone. $2,000 per month is probably not unusual. Goodwill needed to raise money. In order to do that they had to appeal to a more affluent customer base. The new stores attracted so many bargain hunters that donations improved dramatically and Goodwill was able to raise prices. Okay for the new middle-class customers but a little difficult on the poorer folks who used to depend upon Goodwill.
Shouldn’t the most good will be shown to the least among us?
Mr. Williams, perhaps unwittingly, provided a public relations service for this questionable “charity” that does everything in its power to make sure anything of real value will not make it to the sales floor. Almost every Goodwill franchise in the country maintains Amazon and eBay accounts and 99.9% of the “good stuff” winds up online.
I know from whence I speak as I made my living for 10 years by selling on eBay and Amazon and at least half of my income was derived from Goodwill “finds.” That all ended abruptly about three years ago when my local Goodwill franchise started selling online. Quality product simply disappeared into the bowels of their online sales department.
This newly discovered income goes a long way towards supporting the huge salaries that Goodwill executives rake in. The head of Goodwill International pulls down $500,000 per year. Our local franchise CEO rakes in about $260,000 per year. Yup, there’s gold in Goodwill but it sure as hell ain’t going to go into your pockets…or in the pockets of the lower-level workers either.
If Mr. Williams wanted to read a piece of real journalism from his teleprompter maybe he should have spoken about the huge organized protest directed at Goodwill Industries by the National Federation of the Blind this past summer. This story was not covered by the national news but it received superfluous attention from local news sources in areas where the protests took place.
There is a provision in the minimum-wage law that allows a company to pay sub-minimum wages to disabled employees if they meet certain standards as regulated by the US Department of Labor. The employer has to submit a form WH-226-MIS (special wage certificate) and do “time studies” to evaluate how “efficient” an employee is. Once that certificate is approved the employer is allowed to pay less than minimum wage.
Protesters were claiming that 64 of the 165 Goodwill franchises use these laws to pay disabled and blind workers wages that are slightly above that earned by laborers in a Bangladesh sweat shop (Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the National Federation of the Blind confirm that some Goodwill workers are paid as little as 22 cents per hour). Below are but a few of the links concerning this protest that I found online. I urge my readers to delve into the comments section which follow the articles:
Invariably, wherever these protests occurred, the local Goodwill offered up company shills to assert that, while unnamed Goodwill franchises may be stooping to this terrible injustice, THEY were not amongst them.
Charleston mainstream media did not cover the protests at all. I am not surprised by this. Their relationship to Palmetto Goodwill is akin to the loving mother who shields an exceptionally ugly baby from the stares of strangers. Besides, these news readers are way too busy reporting on important stuff like “Two-headed snake found in South Carolina” and “Which fast food franchise has the best smoothie” to worry about the screwing being administered to the least among us. God forgive them but…not to worry. I’m sure that they can assuage their collective guilt by getting plastered at local watering holes and golf courses while hobnobbing with the movers and shakers in our community.
So, Brian, herein is a story that involves real investigative journalism. I am guessing, however, that it is of little interest to you, your network, or any other “major” news outlet as it does not presume a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I certainly hope I did not ruffle up your $200 haircut with my critique of this sad piece of public relations being passed off as journalism.
Postscript: Mr. Williams more than made up for this sucker punch he took from the Goodwill propaganda machine. Some months later he did a story about Goodwill’s payment of sub-minimum wages to the disabled. His finely crafted story ignited a firestorm all over the internet. Unfortunately, I don’t think Goodwill really gives a crap because, from what I have seen. they are still ripping off these vulnerable disabled folks. Perhaps a follow up report is in order. How many Goodwill’s are still paying sub-minimum wages? I sure would like to see an NBC team show up in Charleston, South Carolina demanding answers from the low-down crook who runs Palmetto Goodwill.
I gave Mr. Williams high praise in my article “The Most Interesting CEO in the World.” See table of contents in sidebar…