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Goodwill head who took home over $160,000 in 2018 slammed for firing disabled workers after minimum wage hike
Sharon Durbin, the president and CEO of an Illinois chapter of Goodwill who took home over $160,000 last year, is coming under fire after she announced her branch would no longer be employing disabled workers as the state gears up to raise its minimum wage.
According to CBS News, Durbin, whose branch oversees 15 thrift stores in Illinois, told disabled workers employed under the nonprofit's Vocational Rehab Program that the organization would be letting them go. Durbin had reportedly said the move was to offset losses anticipated after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law earlier this year aiming to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.
The move was met with widespread criticism online, including from the state's Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell, who tweeted Tuesday that Goodwill, which is exempt from paying taxes given its nonprofit status and has been granted state funding and contracts, "ought to be ashamed."
In an interview with a local CBS station, Durbin pushed back against criticism over the move, saying, "We are being viewed as this awful organization that is removing jobs from people with disabilities and that's not true."
While attempting to explain the decision to let go disabled workers, Durbin told the station that the vocational program under which they were employed was "not a job" and added "it was a work component and through it we gave them through grace out of our budget to pay them so they had a paycheck to go home with."
Durbin had also warned that the minimum wage hike would ignite a "domino effect" of joblessness across Illinois.
"It is going to impact us all," she said, according to the station. "Gas prices are going to rise, grocery prices are going to rise. Jobs are going to be lost. Look at your Wal-Mart, your Meijers, your Schnucks. They are doing away with real people checking you out and they are doing more to go in the line of automation. Why is that? Because they don't want - or can't afford in their business model - to start paying everyone who walks in the door $15 an hour. They can't. So what are they going to do? They start eliminating jobs, because that is the first line of defense."
She also urged the Pritzker to delay the pay hike, saying, "The governor can make anything happen."
"If he's a governor -which I hope he is - that truly is listening to the people that he serves, because he is a servant, then he will stop and say, 'Wait a minute, I did not realize I was doing this to people with disabilities, and I didn't realize it was going to cripple our businesses out there,'" she said.
However, the Illinois Goodwill branch changed its tune in a statement from Durbin shared on its official Facebook page on Wednesday, in which she wrote the chapter would be "reversing the decision to realign our Voc Rehab program and those participants affected will return to their part time skills training program with pay."
"As the leader of this organization, some challenges can be overwhelming to the point where the numbers, rather than those we are working to elevate, become the focus," she wrote. "Their challenges and their needs are personally near and dear to my heart. As the President & CEO of this organization, I want to apologize to our constituents, our clients and our faithful donors."
"Regardless of the business and financial challenges ahead of us, Land of Lincoln Goodwill will always, first and foremost, remain true to our ideals and our mission of helping others to help themselves through the power of work," she added.