GSA Plan to Shut Warehouses May Put Blind out of Work

By Saffir, Barbara J. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 29, 1999 | Go to article overview

GSA Plan to Shut Warehouses May Put Blind out of Work


Saffir, Barbara J., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The General Services Administration could decide next week if it will close a nationwide supply operation that may put thousands of blind workers and federal employees out of work.

GSA Administrator David Barram announced last summer he was shutting down eight warehouses that supply federal agencies with products made by the blind, but he was forced to reconsider after an arbitration decision.

GSA officials met this week with negotiators for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents the 2,000 federal employees who work at the warehouses.

After the meeting, Mr. Barram issued a statement saying, "At this time we cannot release any information until our partners have had the time to evaluate all that is being presented."

GSA also is holding discussions with the National Industries for the Blind (NIB), an Alexandria-based nonprofit group that represents 1,400 privately employed blind workers who staff phones in the ordering centers and make the products.

They make pencils, mops, tracheotomy kits and other supplies that are distributed to several federal agencies and the military.

Marketed under the name "Skilcraft," the supplies are produced under GSA contracts with NIB and its 89 affiliated agencies, including the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in the District and the Virginia Industries for the Blind. Congress passed a law in 1938 mandating the purchases.

NIB's president, Jim Gibbons, said he is asking GSA for 18 to 24 months transition time to adjust to any changes it proposes because "if they just carte blanche shut down the depot system, people would lose their jobs. …

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