Salvation Army accused of paying far below minimum wage to store workers in its rehabilitation programs

Michael Clancy, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, claims his starting wage at The Salvations Army’s adult rehabilitation center, 506 N. Desplaines St. in Chicago, was $1 per week.

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This year, Salvation Army red kettles will be equipped with special stickers that allow passersby to donate on the spot using their smart phones.

In a lawsuit against the Salvation Army, a man claims the organization paid him $1 a week while he was in its rehabilitation program.

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The Salvation Army is being sued in three states, including Illinois, and accused of violating federal law by failing to pay minimum wage to “thousands of people” who lived or worked in its adult rehabilitation centers nationwide.

According to those lawsuits, people enrolled in Salvation Army adult rehabilitation centers must perform “work therapy,” which amounts to working at least 40 hours a week inside the organization’s thrift stores.

In return, enrollees can be paid as little as $1 per week to start, which is what an Illinois man alleged in the lawsuit filed in Chicago. That starting wage can increase weekly, but only up to $21 per week. Workers also are compensated with dorm-like sleeping arrangements, food donated by third parties and donated clothing. The value of all that, the Illinois lawsuit contends, is still “far below the required minimum wage.”

Workers also are often required to turn over to the Salvation Army any SNAP benefits they receive.

“In name, The Salvation Army’s [adult rehabilitation centers] claim to be rehabilitative, but the reality is that they take advantage of vulnerable people with few options,” attorney Michael Hancock said in a statement. “Instead of getting support on the road to stability and recovery, participants are forced to do grueling manual labor, live in meager conditions, make pennies in wages and give up government assistance that could improve their self-sufficiency.”

There are about 120 Salvation Army residential adult rehabilitation centers across the country. The organization says they help people experiencing homelessness and others battling drug or alcohol addiction problems.

A spokeswoman for Salvation Army declined to comment on the lawsuit but said it remains “dedicated to our mission of meeting human needs without discrimination, which includes offering programs that promote stability to anyone in need in accordance with our capacity to help.”

Lawsuits also were filed in New York and Georgia.

Michael Clancy, an Illinois man named in the local lawsuit, went to The Salvation Army’s adult rehabilitation center at 506 N. Desplaines St. in 2019 and, between July 2019 and January 2020, worked at various facilities operated by the group. His starting pay was $1 a week, and he often put in over 40 hours per week as his weekly salary slowly climbed to $21.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which the lawsuit accuses the Salvation Army of violating, workers must be paid a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The Chicago minimum hourly wage was $13 in early 2020 and has since increased to $15.

“For years, The Salvation Army has had two tiers of workers: full-time staff who are paid at or above the federal minimum wage, and [adult rehabilitation centers] participants who are paid a pittance for the same work,” attorney Jessica Riggin said in a statement. “The Salvation Army is an organization with tremendous resources and, like any employer, must adhere to federal law and pay all employees the minimum wage.”

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