Monday, June 24, 2013

NFB National Convention Meeting Announcement : Blind Industry Workers of America (BIWA)

NFB National Convention Meeting Announcement
Blind Industry Workers of America (BIWA)
July 4, 2013
Salon 6
5PM – 7PM

Greetings colleagues,

Dr. Maurer has asked Anil Lewis and me to lead an effort reconstituting the Blind Industrial Workers of America. As our battle for fair wages continues, we must reach more blind workers. It is important to harness their experience and expertise earned in the trenches on the front line for the common effort. National Industries for the Blind (NIB) makes much of the fact that they do not pay blind workers less than the minimum wage on Federal AbilityOne contracts. They often conveniently ignore the million-dollar contracts they perform for state government and private industry. Many NIB shops are less than forthcoming about the thousands of blind men and women who toil day after day, month after month, year after year in so-called work activity centers. NIB says these "work activity centers" are not work, but "training and rehabilitation." These work activity centers fill contract orders for products. They enhance the bottom line of the NIB agency. We know of Federation members with college degrees who have attempted to gain advancement to the front office without equal consideration with their sighted peers. We know of shops in which jokes about the blind are routine among sighted supervisors on the factory floor. It is not uncommon for a workshop to provide "rehab training" under a contract to the state rehabilitation agency. Talk about sitting in the cat bird seat. They get paid to provide "blindness skills training" which allows them to channel some workers into a work activity center from which the shop profits from those same clients doing subminimum wage work on state contracts. The shop then regularly administers demeaning time tests which will then allow the shop in the cat bird seat to channel some clients to positions on the factory floor, which best suits the needs of the sighted highly-paid custodians. We need a strong union of Federationists with the courage to confront the unfair, discriminatory and corrupt regimes prevalent in many shops, whether they are NIB, NISH or any other work environment. When non-profit or for-profit companies treat blind employees with respect, dignity and equality of opportunity, they will welcome the creation of the National Federation of the Blind Industrial Workers of America. When they do not, the BIWA will be on the front line ready to investigate, publicize and act.

The Blind Industrial Workers of America has a proud tradition in the history of the Federation. Please let our colleagues know about our upcoming information organizational meeting. If you know of members working in JWOD programs or other direct labor, or members of your affiliate have an interest in learning about and supporting the effort of the BIWA, please encourage their attendance at our meeting. It will be on July 4th. We expect the meeting to take less than 2 hours. We will meet immediately following the afternoon convention session on Thursday, July 4. We will meet in Salon 6. Please announce on your state listserves, at your convention caucuses and in your delegation.

The BIWA, a union of Federationists.
·        Building the movement
·        Respect and dignity for all workers
·        Fair wages
·        Better working conditions
·        Equality of opportunity for career advancement
·        21st century training leading to fair pay for real work
·        Blind working men and women have a right to fair treatment just like everybody else
·        Blind workers speaking for themselves

At your service,


Kevan Worley
Executive Director
National Association of Blind Merchants

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