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 Amanda Hart
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Goodwill Isn’t Living Up To Their Name

Goodwill Isn’t Living Up To Their Name
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By: Amanda Hart


This past Saturday I was on the hunt for bookshelves and stopped by the Goodwill located in the Heights. As I turned into the parking lot I was greeted with signs that read, “We need good jobs, not Goodwill.” I parked and made my way towards the picketers. Kimberly Flores, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas (NFTB), greeted me as I walked up. Ms. Flores explained to me that the protesters were asking for “Goodwill to stop paying subminimum wages to disabled employees.”  Ms. Flores went on to say, “Goodwill participates in a special wage certificate program that allows them to pay people with disabilities as low as 22 cents an hour. Obviously we feel that is unfair, immoral, and discriminatory.  We are encouraging people to not shop at their thrift stores until they discontinue this practice.”

In an email correspondence with  the President of the NFTB Houston Chapter, Louis Maher, explained that, “Houston Goodwill President, Steven Lufburrow told me that the Houston Goodwill employs approximately 1,300 workers, 51 of whom are paid a sub minimum wage rate, which represents about 4% of the total Houston Goodwill employment.” So either Lufburrow is full of it and thought that making the numbers seem small would also make this issue seem insignificant, or Lufburrow has no soul and would rather pay people with disabilities 22 cents an hour (8 hour day = $1.76 per day before taxes) to keep the company’s salary cost down by a measly 4%. Either way you look at it, something is very unsettling about this.

I attempted to contact Mr. Lufborrow but he appears to be a little busy raking in an annual salary of $360, 748 and, to date, has not returned my email regarding his company’s practice of paying people with disabilities pennies an hour. And just in case you don’t have a calculator handy and would like a wage comparison, based on Lufborrow’s salary, he makes $187 an hour. James Gibbons, CEO of Goodwill, whose annual income totals $511,000 ($265 an hour) also seems to be quite happy with this pay disparity. Of the 165 Goodwill affiliated agencies in the country, 64 of them are federally certified and actively pay their disabled workers pennies a day.

So how does a nonprofit legally get away with such discriminatory practices?  Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed in 1938 and was intended to protect people with disabilities by ensuring they had access to gainful employment. This section of FLSA allows the Secretary of Labor to grant special wage certificates that permit employers to pay disabled workers below minimum wage. 74 years later it appears that nonprofits are using it to exploit cheap labor, often in sheltered workshops. These task-oriented workshops allow employers to separate disabled workers from the non-disabled population and reportedly is where the bulk of exploitation occurs. According the a Federation of the Blind press release, this discrimination is rooted in the idea that disabled citizens are incapable of being productive employees, and creates an environment in which it becomes impossible for workers to be competitively employed or financially independent.

Legislation to end these unfair labor practices is in the works. H.R. 3086 – The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011 would revoke sheltered workshops from not only paying  sub minimum wages but would also bring an end to legal segregation of the workforce. The practice of issuing special wage certificates would be abolished and would phase out current certificate holders over the next three years. Everyone deserves workforce protection including a federal minimum wage.

Many of us might not realize that it is not common practice to pay people the current minimum wage. Or that there was a need for society to demand that entities such as Goodwill pay their employees more than $1.76 a day. One way to get involved is by joining the National Federation of the Blind in their boycott of Goodwill. Another option would be to email the President of Goodwill Houston, Steven Lufborrow, who makes a weekly salary of $7,500,  and let him know that you believe fair wages for all Texas employees is a necessity.

20 Responses to Goodwill Isn’t Living Up To Their Name

  1. rj Sunday, September 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I wonder how much of greedwills employment stats are from the EXTREMELY HIGH TURN OVER???

  2. Alison Monday, February 4, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Unfortunately, Goodwill has turned into more of a business than they let on. My younger brother worked there for a short time. He’s very intelligent and is an excellent worker when you explain things to him and show him how to do things. Tell him once and he remembers anything. He was fired from Goodwill for things that could have been avoided if Goodwill really does what they say they do. They provided him with zero training and expected him to read their minds. I really hate it when my brother is taken advantage of and that’s exactly what they did to my brother. Don’t be fooled by their “we’re helping people” stance. They ONLY care about the money.

  3. jose Monday, November 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Goodwil of houston is not all it seem to be. I work at goodwill for 15 years and they treat people like crap behide close door. some people dont really know the real steve. behide close door he would yell at the employee and make fun of them. most of the staff are pay way to high. steve dont really care about people with disabled. all he care about making $$$ for his familys and living the lifestyle we cant afford. people just dont really know what go on behide close door until you work there.

  4. SuperbHerb Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I have no doubt in my mind that Goodwill’s religious ties are at the core of why this article was written.

    Faith-based commenting–bravo.

    I don’t know, don’t care either. I’m not in charge of Houston Goodwill, nor is my place to tell them how to run their operation.

    You have a funny way of showing that you don’t care. I’m sure Goodwill appreciates the pass you’ve granted them, as we at FPH appreciate your telling us how to run our paper.

    [E]very single time that a disabled employee shows up to work at Goodwill, they are doing so voluntarily.

    Look up “Hobson’s Choice” in the dictionary.

    If said employees have an issue with their pay scale, perhaps they could make a case for why their work deserves higher compensation.

    Uh…Isn’t that what they’re doing with this strike/boycott? Isn’t that the conversation that Amanda Hart is prompting, here, on the pages of FPH?

    You are angry and confused and using circular logic. You seem to be really angry that Hart is critiquing a Christian CHARITY by calling for JUSTICE. I wish I knew the source, but someone much smarter than me said:

    IN A WORLD WITH JUSTICE THERE WOULD BE NO NEED FOR CHARITY

  5. Sarah S Sunday, September 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Amanda, thanks and please continue to cover local service industry and labor issues. Maybe consider Subway workers especially, some very shady stuff allowed to happen re: scheduling with franchisers. See the recent stories about airport Subway workers attempting to organize. Looking forward to the followup.

  6. RamonLP4 Sunday, September 2, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Thanks Amanda,

    I’m looking forward to the follow-up and I really, truly appreciate your bringing this to my and other readers’ attention.

  7. AmandaHart Sunday, September 2, 2012 at 1:01 am

    Ramon,

    I appreciate your constructive criticism. And I did in fact know that other Goodwill stores choose to not use CPRs. I did not include it in the article because the article was directed at what is going on in Houston and not what is going on in say, Austin (who also does not pay sub minimum wages to employees). I agree that not pointing this out was an error on my part, but it was not due to a lack of research on my end.

    And while the provision is to allow for people with the most severe of disabilities to gain employment: the reality of it is that companies in no way are monitored and like any good business will exploit their employees. I also found in my research a company in Ohio that actually uses the law to pay janitors less than $5 an hour because for whatever reason companies are not required to report any work that occurs between the hours of 11pm and 7am. The janitors have no disabilities and are simply the victims of a company using an outdated law to their advantage. I also did not include this in the article because it did not have anything to do with Houston.

    I emailed the Houston President directly because he had talked to the Federation of the Blind directly and given them the 4% numbers that are used in the article. I gave him 48 hours to contact me before the article went to print, and he still has not responded.

    And I personally think that the amount of money that the people who run Goodwill are taking in annually is not irrelevant. I think it shows the ridiculous pay disparity going on.

    I am working on a follow up article now. And I will contact the PR department at Goodwill.

    Thanks again for bringing up valid concerns with my article. It will only help to further my writing in the future.

  8. RamonLP4 Friday, August 31, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Caleb,

    I can’t speak for the entire publication. But I can tell you that the writers here are independent. So your mistake is in ascribing a group think to the writers is flat out misinformed. Each writer needs to be taken on based upon his or her own writing. Therfore if you are going to accuse Amanda of this please show me instances in her writing where she writes in the manner you accuse her of. If you are going to accuse me of the same thing because I write for this paper, then I beg you to find an example in my writing as well.

    Last but not least, you write, “I don’t know, don’t care either. I’m not in charge of Houston Goodwill, nor is my place to tell them how to run their operation.”

    This is morally and intellectually dishonest. You can’t have it both ways. By defending the practice as you have based on your own self-proclaimed willful ignorance, you are indeed telling them how to run their business. You are saying, “Yes, charity to your fellow man be damned, severely handicapped people deserve below minimum wage.” It is sad that you are so locked into your antagonistic point of view that you “Don’t know and don’t care” about the underlying facts.

    I, on the other hand, am asking Houston’s Goodwill to do better because, by asking the questions you do not, I have seen other Goodwills lead by example, have found that it can be done, and have seen that the financial costs of basic human moral decency is not one that will drag down the organization.

    Lastly, if the tone you take is any indication of your faith, let me just say that it is not the kind of faith I admire. I’m reminded of a hymn we used to sing that was based on Matthew 25:45 “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” That verse is what is at issue here. I’m sorry that YOUR faith does not teach this and I pity your children.

  9. Caleb Friday, August 31, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Ramon,

    “What is it about Houston’s operations where they feel they need to have this policy in place where others don’t?”

    I don’t know, don’t care either. I’m not in charge of Houston Goodwill, nor is my place to tell them how to run their operation.

    “That is not a fact but your assertion based on an uninformed opinion about who Amanda is and how you think this paper is run. This is nothing short of baseless and ignorant. You do not know Amanda and shame on you for ascribing her as being hateful towards people of faith.”

    Not a fact, absolutely. Could not agree with you more.

    Baseless? If basing my accusation on years of exposure to a publication which consistantly mocks/tears down/belittles/marginalizes/generalizes/stereotypes a specific groups of people, then I suppose my claims are baseless.

    Unfortunately, FPH will never run an article titled “Why we hate god and why everyone who believes in a god is a complete idiot” or an article titled “Why we hate everyone who holds any polical view which is more conservative than ours and why those who think differently than us have nothing of importance to share.”

    I have made a judgement based on my observations. I don’t make said judgements lightly, but I refuse to keep quite just because FPH will never come right out and say what it is that their articles have already said several times already.

  10. RamonLP4 Friday, August 31, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Caleb,

    I have no doubt in my mind that Goodwill’s religious ties are at the core of why this article was written.”

    That is not a fact but your assertion based on an uninformed opinion about who Amanda is and how you think this paper is run. This is nothing short of baseless and ignorant. You do not know Amanda and shame on you for ascribing her as being hateful towards people of faith.

    “My contention is that Goodwill is doing nothing wrong by paying severely handicapped workers sub minimum wage

    Unlike you, I have made no pre-judgementon any of this. I simply ask for further details from Houston’s Goodwill. Here is the question you seem to avoid that I now will have to repeat yet a third time. Let me put it in bold for you so that you do not dance around this simple basic question yet a third time.

    “What is it about Houston’s operations where they feel they need to have this policy in place where others don’t?

    Also, since you ignored my links to the Goodwills that operate without these practices, here are some excepts:

    “No such program or provisions exist in Canada. No staff at Goodwill Toronto, Eastern,Central and Northern Ontario earn less than the minimum wage, with or without a disability. In fact many employees earn more; employees also receive health benefits and
    have access to a pension plan.

    The contributions made by all members of our team are essential to our ongoing success. We see no distinction in the contributions made to Goodwill by employees with or without a disability and remain proud of the work our staff perform every day to create jobs and green our communities.” – Keiko Nakamura CEO, Goodwill Industries Toronto, Eastern, Central and Northern Ontario

    “Our board of directors (nonpaid volunteers) voted against it,” she said. “None of our stores or centers pays below minimum.” -Jane Nichols, president and CEO, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Rivers.

    I find the standards of these two examples to be praise worthy and commendable. Why should the Houston Goodwill not rise to a higher standard? Or to put it in the religious tone you wish to force this discussion into I ask you, “Does God expect less of Houston’s Goodwill?”

    I remind you that simply because something is legal, does not make it moral. I am sure that Houston’s Goodwill industries can rise to the example of the Goodwill Industires I have cited and afford to pay the small number of staff in this program a livable wage.

  11. Caleb Friday, August 31, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Mary,

    You’re swinging at the wind.

    My argument pertains to severely disabled employees, the focus of this article. Not simply people with disablities. There are individuals in my office who are disabled who make the same money that I do, and rightly so. This is because their work is equivilant to mine.

    In the case of Goodwill, persons being discussed are severly disabled. These cannot perform the same tasks as those who are able bodied or even people with less severe disabilities. As evidenced in the Special Olympics, there is a very wide spectrum of disabilities. Let’s not pertend that all disabilities are the same.

    Your attacks are very good and all very true. Unfortunately, I never made the claims that you are attacking.

  12. Caleb Friday, August 31, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Ramon,

    My mention of the FPH bigotry was provided as an explanation for motive to write this article. I have no doubt in my mind that Goodwill’s religious ties are at the core of why this article was written. You say again and again that Amanda brings up some interesting questions; I disagree. The only interesting question she brought to my mind was “Why take the time to write such an article?”

    You have my argument all wrong. My contention is that Goodwill is doing nothing wrong by paying severely handicapped workers sub minimum wage. I have a family member who is severely disabled and is part of a similar work program. The point is not to make these individuals rich; the point is to give them something to do to give their lives purpose, fulfillment, etc. These programs also allow severely disabled persons to get out of the house, get around other people, socialize. There is absolutely nothing abusive about work programs paying sub minimum wage to severely handicapped employees.

    Let’s try to stay focused on facts and reality. Goodwill is under no obligation to hire these people in the first place. These folks are not being forced to work.

    If you or the author find this practice so offensive and you sincerely want to bring about real change, then I suggest starting a non profit so that you can then pay your severely disabled employees whatever it is that you think is fair.

    What is so frustrating about Amanda’s article is that is exemplifies a very dangerous mentality, one that is commonly expressed by FPH writers. The mentality is that you can sit on the sidelines, “advocating,” not actually producing anything of real value, not actually doing anything to bring about real change. And talk about pet projects! Of all the things Amanda could write about, of all the things to decry, she goes after Goodwill because they are doing something in a manner that she disapproves of. Nevermind the fact that no laws are being broken. Nevermind the fact that every single time that a disabled employee shows up to work at Goodwill, they are doing so voluntarily. If said employees have an issue with their pay scale, perhaps they could make a case for why their work deserves higher compensation. If this doesn’t work, perhaps they could apply for a position at FPH where they would be paid luxurious salaries with cushy benefit package, where they would be treated “fairly.”

  13. Mary Friday, August 31, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Caleb,

    All that prevents you from being covered by the special wage certificate is a chance of fate. If you’re, Lord forbid, in a car accident today and break your back, will your work suddenly be worth only pennies an hour? If you’re blinded by flying glass, should we start paying you wages that would be low for a sweatshop in southeast Asia? People with disabilities can, and do, make meaningful contributions to society–just ask FDR, Steven Hawking, Apl.de.ap, or David A. Patterson (former governor of NY). “The disabled” is a club any of us can join at any time. Rather than seeping yourself in stereotype and ignorance, look at this issue as one that applies to *you*, personally–because someday, it very well could. It’s not right to systematically discrimate against a group of workers because of a medical condition–which is what disabilities are–or to try to rationalize that discrimination based on other good works you may be doing.

  14. RamonLP4 Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Caleb,

    Here is an idea, stick to the issues when you try to enter a debate. Nobody is persecuting anyone’s religion here.

    The questions I laid our in my prior response to Amanda’s article are ones that really do need answering by Goodwill.

    I don’t think the questions raised regarding Houston’s Goodwill industries should go unanswered especially when, had you bothered to read my comments, other Goodwills in other parts of the US and Canada take pride in **not** underpaying their severely handicapped employees.

    While I find fault with the article for not taking some due diligence, it does raise important questions that need answers. Argue persecution where there is none is bad rhetoric and I suggest you stick to the main questions at hand.

    What you argue is that the overriding good of Goodwill should be the excuse for these practices. I suggest to you, while not equating the two, that argument was likely the same one used by supporters of Penn State Football.

  15. Caleb Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Amanda,

    Sorry, I just couldn’t let this one slide either: “…according to you,[Goodwill] “has helped millions and millions and millions of people in a very real way.””

    According to me??? Are you serious? You do know that your remarks are open to the public, right?

    •People served through employment and training programs: 4.2 million
    •Mission services provided: 107 million
    •People who earned a job with Goodwill’s help : 189,000
    •Estimated total earnings of people who earned a job with Goodwill’s help: $2.95 billion
    •Personal and family support services provided: 10 million
    •Total revenue generated by Goodwill organizations: $4.43 billion
    •Total revenue spent directly on programs: 82 percent
    •Total number of donors (includes repeat donations): 79 million
    •Total number of retail stores: Over 2,650 and an online auction site, http://www.shopgoodwill.com

    According to me or according to facts?

    You really had me scratching my head there for a minute wondering, “Why would someone attack an organization like Goodwill? What could possibly motivate a person to want to discredit an organization that does infinitely more for their community than those who sit on the sidelines, criticizing charitable organization for not doing enough? Of all the stories to report on, why this one?”

    Then I went to the Goodwill website and suddenly everything became clear… I saw the G word on their webpage: God.

    It is no secret that the writers for FPH are amongst the most rabid bigots in this fair city. While operating under the guise of progressive politics, FPH consistently demonstrates its bigotry towards anyone and everyone who does not share their specific set of beliefs.

    Believe in God? Oh, you must be a barefoot, science hating, child molesting hypocrite. Show me one (1) example in which someone with a faith in God is portrayed in any other manner.

    I realize that I am making an astounding accusation, but please spare me the excuses. In keeping with FPH tradition, you are being deemed guilty until proven innocent. I have read FPH for long enough to know that there is a lively sub-culture of politically correct bigotry. So long as the victim is someone who you disagree with, someone who you think is “stupid,” you can treat them however you want. You can slander them in whatever ways you want.

    You preach tolerance and then you turn around and spread hate. This is really upsetting for me because I tend to agree with FPH’s calls for equality and human rights, but I just can’t join the cult that believes equality and human rights are only for certain people.

  16. Caleb Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Amanda,

    Let’s start with your greatest exaggeration: “The law that allows Goodwill to pay workers sub minimum wages is being grossly misused by Goodwill and other companies all over the country.”

    Did you not state in your own article that the percentage of Houston area Goodwill employees who are paid sub minimum wage is around 4%? Please explain to me how 4% = “grossly misused.”

    In reference to non disabled workers: “And what was it about them that guaranteed they would be highly productive employees”

    Answer: Nothing. What’s your point? As an employer, it is wise to hire people based on information collected on a resume and in interviews. The objective is to hire highly productive and effective employees. This obviously doesn’t always happen. Slackers will always slip through the cracks. But this does not change the fact that an employer will and should seek out the most qualified individuals for available jobs.

    You also mentioned that these sub-minimum wage salaries do not pay enough to pay for gas or other basics. I could not agree with you more. But, remind me again what law it is that obligates employers to hire disabled people and then pay them the same wage as a non disabled persons? Would it better if these folks simply had no jobs? Or is it just a lot easier to imagine a world in which your sensibilities are offended and therefore a major non-profit must concede to whatever it is that you deem “fair?”

    Regarding the Goodwill CEO’s $500,000/salary… You clearly have no idea what is involved in running a non profit the size of Goodwill. You have no clue. Believe it or not, there are some jobs which are “highly competitive” (unlike positions as staff writers for FPH) which means that some people simply aren’t good enough for the job. They aren’t qualified enough. They aren’t smart enough. As such, highly competitive jobs come with high pay grades because the people who take these jobs are capable of things that you and I are not (like effectively running a non profit the size of Goodwill).

  17. RamonLP4 Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Amanda,

    Your article would be improved if you took some time to do some more research on the topic.

    A small bit of searching on the internet revealed that this provision is in place to allow employers to hire those with the most severe disabilities. So a good article would have started with the question not with what percentage of Goodwill employees receive these low wages but who these severely disabled people are and why Goodwill feels it is allowable for certain of its operations to make these exceptions for them.

    Secondly, this is not a policy of Goodwill as a whole but a regional one. Toronto’s Goodwill takes special pride in their not adhering to these low wage standards (http://www.goodwill.on.ca/documents/Goodwill%20Wages%20Statement.pdf) as do Georgia and Alabama Goodwill operations (http://www.albanyherald.com/news/2012/aug/25/group-stages-minimum-wage-protest/. Therefore the next question would be that given that other Goodwill operations are able to sustain their operations while not paying below minimum wage, why do the ones based in Houston pay so little? What is it about Houston’s operations where they feel they need to have this policy in place where others don’t?

    These questions aren’t answered here and the irrelevant issue of the CEO’s pay doesn’t address them. This could have been a good article that addressed some really good questions but instead what you have here is little more than a rough draft that feels rushed. I’m really curious as to the timespan between your contacting the CEO and your printing the article. Also, why didn’t you contact the PR people whose job it is to address these issues?

    I hope you follow up this article with something more in depth because there are serious things you bring up that the local Houston’s Goodwill cannot leave unaddressed.

  18. AmandaHart Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Caleb,
    Have you ever received services from a non disabled worker? Of course you have. And what was it about them that guaranteed they would be highly productive employees? I know plenty of non disabled people who make far above minimum wage that are protected under the law, and this in no way guarantees a certain amount of productivity. Either way, we as a society should have more respect for one another and not take advantage of people in this way. $1.67 a day, I\’m not sure how to justify paying anyone that amount of money. Would that even cover the gas to get back and forth to work?

    And half a million dollars is nothing to be laughing at Caleb. If you can afford to pay your president HALF A MILLION DOLLARS you can afford to pay minimum wages to all your workers.

    And just because Goodwill according to you, \"has helped millions and millions and millions of people in a very real way.\", this in no way is a get out of jail free card. I respect and stand with The Federation of the Blind and their decision to call for a national consumer boycott of Goodwill until their discriminatory practices are resolved. Austin Goodwill locations ACTIVELY choose to not pay sub minimum wages to ANY of their workers. I have faith that Houston will do the same.

    Bottom line: The law that allows Goodwill to pay workers sub minimum wages is being grossly misused by Goodwill and other companies all over the country. And hopefully H.R. 3086 will change that but before it is mandated that we respect our communities, I hope that Goodwill chooses to do so because they know it is the right thing to do.

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  20. Caleb Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 9:20 am

    This article is a load of shit, a steaming, heaping pile.

    From the article: “Houston Goodwill employs approximately 1,300 workers, 51 of whom are paid a sub minimum wage rate, which represents about 4% of the total Houston Goodwill employment”

    4%? Four per cent! Way to go, Amanda! That’s some real groundbreaking journalism, blowing the lid off this pandemic.

    Let me ask you this, Amanda: Have you ever received service from someone who is severely disabled? There is a reason why disabled persons are called “disabled.” I am stoked to see disabled people in the work force; I think that it is great, but if we can put the zealot kool-aid aside for a moment and get back to reality (the world as it is, not as you want to see it)… The reality is that persons who have severe disabilities do not provide the same quality of work as a person who has either no disabilities or even minor disabilities.

    Have you ever set foot in a Goodwill store? I’d say that their margins are pretty thin, not exactly evidence of lavish company spending.

    The salaries that you supplied are absolutely laughable. For people who have absolutely no idea what is involved in running a non-profit or a corporation or anything the size of GOODWILL, I sure that $300,000 or $500,000 must seem like a tremendous sum of money… until you compare that with other salaries of non-profit CEOs *of institutions as large as Goodwill.*

    Or you could compare their salaries with corporate CEOs. Think of “value” provided by most of our bank CEOs. Think about how much their brilliant overdraft charge, pyramid scheme benefits you, the customer. Given their salary information and the “value” that they provide, I don’t think that you have room to complain about a comparatively nominal salary given to higher ups at Goodwill, an institution which has helped millions and millions and millions of people in a very real way.

    To say that you are perhaps barking up the wrong tree is the understatement of a lifetime.

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