SPRINGFIELD — The leader of Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries resigned Thursday, days after coming under fire for plans to lay off workers with disabilities due to the state minimum wage increase.
President and CEO Sharon Durbin quit after 13 years with the organization. The nonprofit had planned to stop paying 12 workers with disabilities, a decision that was reversed Wednesday after public backlash following news coverage of the situation.
Durbin had also faced criticism for saying the work completed by employees with disabilities “really wasn’t a job,” and that “we gave them through grace out of our budget so they had a paycheck to go home with.”
In a statement, the organization's board said Thursday that it was "strongly committed to our mission, to our 400 employees and to those individuals with disabilities, veterans, at-risk youth, ex-offenders and those seeking job training assistance that we serve.
"The Board fully intends to seek out a strong, compassionate leader for our Goodwill organization who can energize our employees, expand our mission and who can provide the mission-driven leadership necessary to positively impact thousands of lives each year in central Illinois," it said.
Herald & Review media partner WCIA-TV earlier this week reported that Land of Lincoln was reducing the staff because of the wage increase that starts Jan. 1. A total of 50 people with intellectual disabilities are in the program, one of several job-training and employment placement services operated by the organization, which also has 15 stores in Lincoln, Clinton and other Central Illinois communities. It has no Decatur operations.
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Durbin cited the state's minimum wage increase as a partial cause of the decision, even though the organization has federal permission to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage. Out of 50 workers with disabilities, 11 earned $9.50 an hour, 12 earned $8.25 an hour, and 27 were paid below the minimum wage, WCIA reported.
The news of the CEO's resignation came hours after the state's two Democratic U.S. Sentators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, published a letter to Sharon Durbin demanding financial statements and other documentation from Goodwill. Dick Durbin and Sharon Durbin are not related.
“While we appreciate the Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries’ willingness to apologize for [this] harmful effort and reverse course, fixing a manufactured crisis that you created is far from an admirable effort,” the senators wrote.
State lawmakers, including Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, also have called for a review of all state contracts awarding taxpayer dollars to the organization.