Contracting Dispute Threatens Jobs Of Blind Workers In Winston-Salem

Contracting Dispute Threatens Jobs Of Blind Workers In Winston-Salem

12:17pm Jun 01, 2017
IFB's optical department currently employs 84 workers, many of whom are blind or visually impaired. DAVID FORD/WFDD.
  • IFB Solution's Optical Department currently runs two shifts manufacturing eyeglass lenses for VA distribution centers across the country. DAVID FORD/WFDD.

  • Founded in 1936, IFB Solutions (formerly Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind) has grown to become the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the country. IFB operates manufacturing facilities in Winston-Salem, N.C., Asheville, N.C., and Little Rock, Ark., in addition to more than 40 office supply stores and optical centers across the country. DAVID FORD/WFDD.

A Winston-Salem non-profit organization that employs the blind or visually impaired is facing job cuts. IFB Solutions (formerly Industries for the Blind) is in a legal battle that’s pitting its workers against the veterans they serve.

The non-profit company manufactures, among other items, eyeglasses for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country. Since 2000, the VA has awarded contracts to the organization, and IFB recently underwent a million-dollar expansion to meet growing demand.

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Founded in 1936, IFB Solutions (formerly Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind) has grown to become the largest employer of people who are blind or visually impaired in the country. DAVID FORD/WFDD.

But in March, the VA reversed its policy on contract opportunities for non-profits employing blind workers. Now they’re also awarding contracts to businesses owned by disabled veterans.

IFB Chief Operating Officer Dan Kelly says the timing of the change and the way it was implemented compelled them to lodge a complaint.

“[It was] without public notice, without time for public comment, [and] without going through administrative procedures," says Kelly. "Changing a policy that’s been in place for 7-8 years and has allowed for us to expand employment opportunities for people who are blind... I’ve been confused, shocked and dismayed.”

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IFB Solution's Optical Department currently runs two shifts manufacturing eyeglass lenses for VA distribution centers across the country. DAVID FORD/WFDD.

Kelly says the lawsuit accuses the VA of allegedly altering their contracting rules improperly. He says this threatens the livelihoods of hundreds of blind employees — 50 of whom work in Winston-Salem — as well as fifteen veteran employees.

“There is an intersection that can create jobs for people who are blind, and can create not only jobs for veterans but entrepreneurial opportunities for veterans who want to have their own businesses," says Kelly. “There’s $80 billion dollars of spending at the VA. I think we can find space that’s appropriate for both of us within that market space.”

VA spokeswoman Ndidi Mojay told WFDD that the department is unable to comment on pending litigation.

IFB Solutions in Winston-Salem is the nation’s largest employer of visually impaired individuals with nearly 500 employees.

 

              

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