In IFB’s continuing attempt to retain three important government contracts that employ some 137 local workers, the latest federal court ruling, on Sept. 4, is a definite setback. As a result, one contract has been terminated, costing 47 local workers their jobs.
The decision also bodes ill for the two remaining contracts, employing 90 additional workers, which are set to expire on Sept. 30 and Oct. 31.
We hope these workers will have little difficulty finding other positions — and that the Supreme Court will ultimately take up the case and reverse its momentum.
The Winston-Salem nonprofit agency IFB Solutions Inc. is the largest employer of the blind in the United States with about 1,000 employees overall and 556 locally. It was filling three government contracts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide prescription eyewear — substantial contracts that provided jobs for 137 workers. This included 76 employees who are blind and 15 who are military veterans.
The contracts were provided through an act known as AbilityOne, passed by Congress in the 1930s, that gives federal government preference to companies that employ the blind or severely disabled.
But four legal cases were filed in connection with the VA contracts, including one from a rival New Jersey company, PDS, that employs disabled veterans. Based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the Veterans Benefits Act of 2006, PDS claimed its employees should receive preference. So far, the courts have agreed.
PDS’s disabled vets deserve access to productive work, but it’s a shame that these organizations have been pitted against each other. All of their employees deserve opportunties to be self-sufficient.
IFB has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal, but we won’t know until October or November if the Court will do so. If it does, a decision could take 18 to 24 months.
In the meantime, the former IFB employees need work.
“Even in today’s tight job market, 70 percent of working-age people who are blind are not employed,” IFB employee Scott Smith, a visually impaired veteran, wrote in a July guest column in the Journal. “The reality is that job opportunities for someone who is blind are limited.”
They want what everyone else gets — an opportunity.
It’s not over yet. We appreciate that IFB is doing everything it can to fight for its workers.