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Sheltered Workshops and Blind Alleys

In 1971 the leader of the organized blind movement in the United States sent a message to the agencies serving the blind. This is what he said:

If you tell us that you are important and necessary to our lives, we reply: It is true. But tear down every agency for the blind in the nation, destroy every workshop, and burn every professional journal; and we can build them all back if they are needed. But take away the blind, and your journals will go dusty on the shelves. Your counselors will walk the streets for work, and your broomcorn will mold and rot in your sheltered shops. Yes, we need you; but you need us, too. We intend to have a voice in your operation and your decisions since what you do affects our lives. We intend to have representation on your boards, and we intend for you to recognize our organizations and treat us as equals. We are not your wards, and there is no way for you to make us your wards. The only question left to be answered is whether you will accept the new conditions and work with us in peace and partnership or whether we must drag you kicking and screaming into the new era. But enter the new era you will, like it or not.

When Kenneth Jernigan delivered that emphatic message at the 1971 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the struggle to reform the agencies and rehabilitate the nation's workshops for the blind was still being waged. And nearly twenty years later, as the National Federation of the Blind celebrated its Golden Anniversary, that struggle had not yet ended. But much had changed in half a century including the character and dimensions of the struggle. The movement itself, embodied in the National Federation of the Blind, had grown astonishingly in size and strength to become a dominant player in the blindness system and a critical factor in the shaping of public policy toward the blind. And the agency establishment in its turninfluenced by the Federation and infiltrated by Federationists had matured substantially over the years and even mellowed somewhat in its relations with the movement. Nevertheless, there remained deep pockets of resistance and resentment within the blindness system, most notably in those notorious backwaters of custodial control which represented the residual remains of the Victorian alms houses and workhouses namely, the sheltered workshops.

The story of the sheltered workshops as institutions for the blind has its origin in the poor laws of the Dark Ages. (Some would say that today's workshops are living relics of the Dark Ages.) In their American incarnation the sheltered shops grew up during the nineteenth century in connection with both the workhouses for the poor and the early schools for the blind. The effect which these ancestral influences had upon the course of the workshop movement and upon its hapless blind participants was delineated in an extraordinarily meticulous analysis of state statutes and other data governing the programs which was prepared by Jacobus tenBroek and published in two versions complete account with full references (Braille Monitor, June, 1960) and a shorter version with notes and references removed (Blind American, May, 1962). Professor tenBroek's scholarly study concluded on the hard evidence of the statutes that the sheltered workshop as it exists within the states today is a welfare 'catch-all' which means all things to all men, and therefore that it has become an anachronism which America, if it is to practice successfully the democratic welfare philosophy it professes, can ill afford to perpetuate.

The abridged version of Dr. tenBroek's classic paper follows:


by Jacobus tenBroek

The institution of the sheltered workshop, for over a century an inconspicuous feature of the American welfare scene, has recently emerged from its obscurity to become the storm center of one of the liveliest controversies in the entire field of social work and public welfare. At the heart of the controversy is a fundamental disagreement over the proper function and future role of the sheltered shop. One viewpoint holds that a proper role of the shops is that of providing work evaluation, determination of abilities, and the development of work tolerance on the part of disabled persons along with vocational training itselfas part of the process of vocational rehabilitation. More recently, doctors and health officials have begun to campaign for the use of the workshop as a medical facility for restorative, adjustive, and prevocational services, centering around the principle of work therapy. Finally, the oldest and perhaps still the most widely held viewpoint is that which regards the workshop as a place of remunerative employment for disabled individuals.

Two of these approaches to the sheltered workshop find support for their arguments in federal law and administrative rulings. The proponents of the vocational adjustment and training function point out that, since the passage of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act in 1954, sheltered workshops have been recognized as a legitimate training adjunct of the federal-state vocational rehabilitation program; and in addition they may now cite the majority ruling of the National Labor Relations Board, handed down in March of this year (1960), that rehabilitation is the essential function of the workshop.

The defenders of the employment status of the workshop may demonstrate that, even with the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, sheltered workshop is defined as primarily a place which provides remunerative employment, and that in fact rehabilitation administrators frequently regard the placement of their clients in such shops as sufficient to meet the remunerative placement requirements which are the ultimate objective of vocational rehabilitation programs. Moreover, the employment argument finds further support in the fact that the very exemption of sheltered workshops from the minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act was granted on the premise that they are places of employment.

To some extent the issues raised by these differences of viewpoint are theoretical in nature, involving such questions as: What are the proper goals of workshops? What is their greatest usefulness as instruments of welfare?

To a larger extent, perhaps, the issues are practical. What in actual fact are the functions of such shops? What are the prevailing conditions of training, work, and release?

On both the theoretical and practical levels, disagreement is widespread and often acrimonious. Insofar as they are theoretical, the questions raised by the workshop can only be settled by reference to policies and goals. Insofar as they are practical, such questions can only be answered by reference to fact.

Unfortunately, some of those who are in a position to assemble and disseminate the facts have not done so. For example, the Sheltered Workshop Committee within the Department of Labor has not chosen to fulfill its duties in these areas.

One important source of information concerning sheltered work-shops, however, is available to all. It consists of the statutes of the various states governing their publicly operated sheltered shops. Anyone with access to a law library can look at these statutes. No doubt they yield their information by means of complicated sentences and technical language, but they do yield it. That information is, in large measure, the content of the pages to follow.

In particular, we shall seek to identify the salient characteristics and purposes of the workshops as specified in these laws with reference to the objectives they purport to serve, the nature of their opportunities and undertakings, the attitudes they reflect toward those who participate in them, and their working conditions and social atmosphere.

The principal question to keep in mind through these pages is: What light do they shed upon the basic issue of the proper role and function of sheltered workshops within a system of welfare? Do they distinguish amongor do they merely confuse and comminglethe separate functions of (1) a vocational evaluation, adjustment, and training center; (2) a therapeutic facility; and (3) a place of remunerative employment?

General Background

Sheltered workshops, as such, first arose in America over a century ago as an outgrowth of the special schools for the blind whose curricula concentrated upon the provision of simple forms of vocational training in such limited and manual skills as weaving, knitting, and chair caning, as well as in music and similar arts. At first it was the hope of the educators that the blind, with proper instruction, will be able to maintain themselves free of charge from their friends or the state. Unfortunately, however, nothing had been done to persuade society of the capacities of these blind trainees; and before long, as one report put it, Our graduates began to return to us, representing the embarrassment of their condition abroad, and soliciting employment at our hands. Thus were born the sheltered workshopsas segregated places of permanent employment for those regarded by society (if not by themselves and their protectors) as unemployable.

Although sheltered workshops emerged in their modern form a century ago, their ancestry may be traced at least to the Middle Ages. It is possible to distinguish four separate historical associations from which the contemporary workshops derive: namely, those of the workhouse, the church, the hospital, and the school. Since the traces of this long and complicated heritage are still to be seen in many sheltered workshops of today, it is instructive to glance briefly at the sources and character of these various influences.

The oldest influence of all is that which had its origin in religious protection of the disabled. Since the Church was the first charitable organization, a federal official has written, inevitably some lines of the workshop movement have strong religious ties. When the indigent, the physically disabled, and the mentally different were herded into the asylums of the 1700s, they were being brought together not to ameliorate their condition but simply to get them off the street. A primary concern of the church for its disabled and indigent wards was with their souls as well as with their bodies with spiritual redemption and moral uplift perhaps more than with vocational rehabilitation and physical restoration as understood today. Among many privately operated workshops today, such as those of the Salvation Army and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, these are still the principal goals of workshop activity. The Volunteers of America (an offshoot of the Salvation Army) currently sponsors at least 70 such workshops; while perhaps the most successful of all the mission or church-sponsored workshop chains is that of the Goodwill Industries, founded by a Methodist minister in 1905, which by 1957 controlled 120 shops throughout the country.

A corollary line of development from which the contemporary workshop has emerged is that of the medieval and early modern hospital which, like the asylum, was generally under church auspices, but may be distinguished in terms of its specific function. European hospitals of the early sixteenth century were described by one observer as those places where the sick are fed and cared for, where a certain number of paupers are supported, where boys and girls are reared, where abandoned infants are nourished, where the insane are confined, and where the blind dwell. The purpose of the hospital was primarily to care for the sick and totally disabled, but in the bedlam created by its motley population there were also the rudiments of school, nursery, almshouse, and insane asylum. Those present-day workshops which incorporate the provision of medical and therapeutic services therefore may be seen as the outcome of a line of development reaching back to the medieval hospital and extending through the American county hospitals of more recent times institutions.

Another significant precursor of the sheltered workshop was the workhouse, or almshouse, which evolved as an institution of work relief accompanying the Poor Laws of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For present purposes the chief importance of the workhouse was that it was designed, not primarily for the ill or handicapped, but for the able-bodied poor. The workhouse provided an institutionalized form of poor-relief; and in keeping with Elizabethan assumptions of the characterological causes of poverty, it was made as disagreeable as possible and its wages held to a bare minimum above starvation so that not many would willingly seek admission or contentedly remain. The gospel of work as the means of salvation (and, conversely, of idleness as the route to damnation) virtually converted the almshouse into a forced-labor camp; indeed, the distinction between workhouse and jailhouse was often difficult to discern.

Finally, as indicated above, the sheltered workshops grew up as adjuncts of the special schools for the blind established in the nineteenth century. However, it is significant that these schools soon deliberately severed their connection with the shops they had themselves created, as it became apparent that the functions of education and employment could not feasibly be mixed within the same program. Thereafter, the workshops came to be operated independently of educational and custodial institutions.

The historical development of modern welfare philosophy has been one of increasing recognition of the necessary distinctions and incompatibilities among these several emphases and approaches to the problem of disability. Some among them notably that of the workhouse and almshouse, and possibly also to some extent that of the religious missionhave come to be recognized as anachronisms. Others, such as the vocational training emphasis of the early schools and the sheltered employment conception which succeeded it, still retain some support in welfare theory and policy. But it is clear that the direction of progress has been completely away from the primitive notion of an encompassing bedlam in which all the sick and disabled, rejected and despised members of society would be thrown together and in which the various and dissimilar functions of the church, the school, the factory, the hospital, and the prison would be simultaneously carried on.

It remains to be seen whether the statutes of the states governing their publicly operated sheltered workshops have kept pace with this clear direction of progress.

Conditions of Labor

State employees generally are excluded from compulsory coverage of unemployment compensation under the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. The Code also exempts charitable organizations, including privately operated workshops, from compulsory coverage. Such states as Oregon, California, Washington, and Wisconsin have taken legis- lative and administrative steps to extend the coverage of unemployment compensation to some or all of the workers in their state-operated sheltered workshops. With respect to privately operated workshops, Hawaii is the only one of thirty-two states having such shops to take legislative action changing their status. It did so by dropping the exemptions of charitable organizations from unemployment compensation coverage. In short, the vast majority of employees of sheltered workshops (both public and private) throughout the country are without the protection of unemployment compensation laws.

The workers in sheltered shops face an additional deprivation. The Labor Management Relations Act excludes the states and their political subdivisions from the definition of employer for purposes of collective bargaining. A recent ruling of the National Labor Relations Board withheld the collective bargaining provisions of the Act from privately operated sheltered shops. This ruling was handed down in the case of Sheltered Workshops of San Diego, Inc. vs. United Association of Handicapped. By a majority decision of three to two, the National Labor Relations Board refused to assert jurisdiction. The ground taken was that the Workshop's purposes are directed entirely toward rehabilitation of unemployable persons and that its commercial activities should be viewed only as a means to that end. The chief arguments against this ruling were forcefully stated by the dissenting opinion of the two minority members of the National Labor Relations Board: Why then does the majority find that it would not effectuate the purposes of the Act to assert jurisdiction here? It does so because the Workshop's rehabilitation work benefits the entire community. We do not, of course, deny that this is so, but we reject the implicit corollary that a non-profit organization engaging in socially beneficial activities therefore owes its employees less than other employers do. The right of employees to select a representative and to bargain with their employer concerning their grievances and work conditions should not be so lightly disregarded. The majority has balanced the Workshop's commercial activities against its rehabilitation program and has decided that the latter outweighs the former. We would balance the Workshop's total program, commercial and rehabilitative, against the rights of these unfortunate and disabled employees, and would find that the latter is equally important.

The greatest deprivation to workers in sheltered workshops is the exemption of these shops from the minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. With reference to the blind alone, at least 85 of the more than 100 sheltered shops primarily employing sightless workers hold certificates of exemption issued by the Department of Labor under Section 214 of the Act. The average minimum of such exemptions (1960) is 53 cents per houras opposed to the national minimum wage of $1.00 per hour for industrial labor. About 100 blind workers in sheltered shops receive a minimum wage below 40 cents per hour. Given the generally acknowledged fact that blind persons have special additional expenses incident to their blindness, exemption from minimum wage guarantees is thus a fact of vital significance to workers in sheltered shops.

It is such considerations as these which have led a special subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Meansreporting in March of this year (1960) on the Social Security Program of Disability Insurance to question whether employment in sheltered workshops should properly be regarded as substantial gainful activity. The subcommittee concluded that wage conditions in the shops were generally so deplorable that it should be a rare case in which an employee of a sheltered workshop may be considered to be engaged in substantial gainful activity and thus held ineligible for disability insurance payments. (Administration of Social Security Disability Program, Preliminary Report to the Committee on Ways and Means, submitted by the Subcommittee on the Administration of the Social Security Laws, March 11, 1960, page 22.)

With but few exceptions, it may be said in summary, the employees of sheltered workshops, both publicly and privately operated, (1) do not possess the benefits of unemployment compensation; (2) do not possess the benefits of workmen's compensation; (3) do not possess the benefits of Old Age Survivors and Disability Insurance under the Social Security Program; (4) the privileges of collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act are withheld from them; and (5) they are exempted from the minimum wage guarantees of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In such circumstances of enforced poverty, insecurity, and discriminatory withholding of privileges and denial of rights, can it be contended that the sheltered shops rehabilitate or supply remunerative employment for their disabled workers?

Of the total of 389 workshops holding certificates of exemption from minimum wage laws, 85 primarily serve blind persons. According to the Department of Labor, there were in 1958, 4,700 blind persons employed in these shops (in 1960 the Labor Department statement is less than 5,000) who were subject to certificates of exemption; there were others who did earn the statutory minimum wage, but statistics relating to them are unavailable. Fifty-seven of these shops presently belong to the National Industries for the Blind, which employed 3,712 blind persons in 1956. The lowest minimum wage approved for these workers in 1958 was 10 cents an hour, the highest minimum wage was 80 cents an hour, and the average minimum wage 53 cents an hour. These figures represent the lowest wage permitted in such shops. In construing the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Department of Labor requires that every worker on piece rates be paid the same wage paid to workers in adjacent private industry for the same work. This is not a very valuable standard, since much of the work done in these shops is not carried on by any appreciable segment of private industry; and in any event this standard is not enforced by the Labor Department.


From this survey of the statutory provisions of the states governing their sheltered workshops, several conclusions clearly emerge. The three distinctive functions of sheltered shops vocational rehabilitation, medical therapy, and remunerative employment are rarely distinguished in the statutes. Instead the workshop is commonly conceived as a combination of two, or even all three, of these functionsin effect, as an all-purpose solution to the numerous and varied problems confronted by the blind. In what is perhaps their most characteristic form these statutes simply perpetuate a relic of the past: a vague combination of the workhouse, the almshouse, the factory, and the asylum, carefully segregated from normal competitive society and administered by a custodial staff armed with sweeping discretionary authority. In many cases their responsibility for the client of their services is so broad as to appear to embrace the function of nearly all other community agencies and groups. In the administration of moral uplift and regeneration they assume in effect the role of the church; in the provision of intellectual instruction they exercise the function of the schools; in the enforcement of discipline and the power of punishment they resemble a penal institution; and in their emphasis upon group activities of a social, recreational, and cultural nature they take on the characteristics of a service club or voluntary association. Over and above these disparate if not conflicting responsibilities, the assumption of which is surely of doubtful propriety, the sheltered workshop typically furnishes some form of work experience to its participants, generally for wages and often directed toward the objective of self-support. But few state laws differentiate adequately or clearly among the purposes which these activities may be supposed to serve.

On the basis of our study it is not excessive to conclude that the sheltered workshop as it exists within the states today is a welfare catch-all which means all things to all men, and therefore possesses no distinctive and specific characteristic upon which all may agree. Indeed, by their failure to distinguish among the three separate functions available to them, the workshops of the states must be adjudged to be failures in all three. The nature and extent of their failure with respect to each of these functions may be briefly stated.

1. Vocational Rehabilitation. There are dangers and difficulties involved in the use of sheltered workshops in any program of rehabilitation. Most serious of all are those attending the support of workshops within the public program of vocational rehabilitation (Public Law 565). In their traditional, and still perhaps their most characteristic, role as permanent employment outlets for the disabled, the sheltered shops are incompatible with the purposes and goals of modern vocational rehabilitation. Under no circumstances should they be utilized as dumping grounds for clients of vocational rehabilitation, such as the blind, for whom normal job placement is a difficult but essential prerequisite to proper rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation agencies should be discouraged from regarding the option of sheltered employment as a closure for their clients, however convenient such a solution may be in terms of economy and rapid turnover of the caseload.

Because of their customary role as sheltered (i.e., segregated, covered, and noncompetitive) employment retreats, the social and psychological environment of the workshops is often not conducive to the paramount objective of vocational rehabilitation: that of restoring the disabled person to a vocational status of normality and equality. Where feasible rehabilitants are thrown together with the non-feasible, where working facilities and methods are geared to outmoded and unproductive handicrafts such as broom making and chair caning, and where the working atmosphere is commonly one of defeatism if not of despair, the overriding purposes of modern vocational rehabilitation cannot be served but only undermined.

Apart from psychological and social factors, the economics of sheltered workshops equally tend to militate against their successful adaptation, as presently constituted, to vocational rehabilitation goals. First, they are in most cases at least partially subsidized and so removed from the normal incentives and competition of ordinary industry. Second, insofar as economic considerations enter, workshop managers are tempted to retain their ablest and most productive workers permanently rather than risk a financial loss by graduating them into normal employment. Finally, the economic and working conditions within sheltered shops are commonly far below those in normal industry. The existence of such conditions strongly argues against the public support of sheltered workshops, under any circumstances, as training centers for vocational rehabilitation clients.

Finally, the historic associations of sheltered workshops with the workhouse, almshouse, asylum, and church of the Middle Ages have left conspicuous traces upon the majority of present-day shops, giving them often the character of agencies for moral redemption rather than that of means to the restoration of productive capacities. Institutions thus motivated are unlikely to be equally qualified or equipped in the mundane areas of vocational guidance, training, and selective placement.

2. Terminal Employment. With respect to the function of providing permanent (or terminal) remunerative employment for the blind and severely disabled, sheltered workshops have failed to fulfill their responsibility to their employees. Indeed, they have for the most part sought to avoid the normal obligations of employers through exemption from the laws fixing minimum standards of employment and working con ditions. Workers in sheltered shops deserve and require the same protection of their rights as do the workers in other industries: specifically, with respect to wages, hours, vacations, sick leave, labor-management relations, and the like. However, blind workshop employees have never received, and do not now receive, such protection. Not only do wages fail to meet the cost of living; they fail to meet the minimum requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, from which sheltered shops have in fact been explicitly exempted. Nor can blind workshop employees hope to improve conditions by their own efforts; for one thing, they are not organized into unions, and for another thing (as noted earlier) they have been denied the collective bargaining protection of the National Labor Relations Act. Finally, many of these employees do not have entitlement to workmen's compensation or Social Security privileges, and most are denied the benefits of unemployment compensation. In short, blind workers in sheltered employment are virtually in the position of wards, without legal rights or recourse, and reduced to an abject dependency upon the good will and discretion of their employers. In such circumstances, it is conservative understatement to say that sheltered workshops have failed to meet the conditions of employment to which American workers are entitled and accustomed.

3. Medical Therapy. On the basis of our survey of statutory provisions, the least plausible of all claims for sheltered workshops is that they have provided or can provide adequate facilities for medical and therapeutic assistance. For such facilities to be efficient, they should be completely divorced from considerations of remunerative employment on the one hand and of vocational training on the other. The purposes of therapy are, of course, not economic but medical and psychological in character. The very cases for whom such assistance is the primary needi.e., the multiply and totally disabledare those incapable of self-sufficient employment, let alone of vocational preparation for return to normal occupations. The statutes which we have examined plainly display the tendency of sheltered shops to become terminal places of employment in which so-called unemployables may find a drudge's niche at the workbench. It goes without saying that something more than the stereotyped blind trades of weaving and chair caning is required to serve a genuine therapeutic purpose and furnish healthy incentives to personal adjustment. The clinging heritage of the almshouse and asylum, into which the supposed derelicts of society were dumped and forgotten, remains sufficiently in evidence in present-day workshops to vitiate the prospect of their constructive uses for medical and therapeutic purposes. What the severely disabled clients of such services most clearly and urgently need is a form of productive endeavor carefully adjusted to their unique individual circumstances and in- dividually designed to make constructive use of their enforced leisure. Such a therapeutic enterprise must be in the fullest sense client-centered rather than geared to industrial markets, economic consideration, or the convenience of traditional trades and handicrafts.

This is not to say, of course, that the three separate functions which sheltered workshops have purported to serve those of vocational rehabilitation, of employment, and of therapyhave no place in modern programs of health and welfare. For the blind and other disabled persons in the productive years of life, vocational rehabilitation is the essential and overriding need; but its purposes of occupational guidance, training, and com petitive job placement cannot be met by the sheltered workshop. If, either within or outside the vocational rehabilitation process, there is need for vocational adjustment or therapeutic centers, that need should be met not by the sheltered shop but by special rehabilitation facilities such as those authorized by Public Law 565 (where they are carefully distinguished from workshops). Rehabilitation facility, the law states, means a facility operated for the primary purpose of assisting in the rehabilitation of disabled persons (1) which provides one or more of the following types of services: (A) testing, fitting, or training in the use of prosthetic devices; (B) prevocational or conditioning therapy; (C) physical or occupational therapy; (D) adjustment training; or (E) evaluation or control of special disabilities; or (2) through which is provided an integrated program of medical, psychological, social, and vocational evaluation and services under competent professional supervision. Finally, there is no doubt that a genuine need exists for permanent noncompetitive employment of certain categories of the severely handicapped, but that need also (as we have seen above) is not met by sheltered workshops of the type described by the governing statutes of the states.

In summary, the fundamental failure of sheltered workshops for the blind and disabled lies in their indiscriminate intermingling of functions and purposes which are demonstrably incompatible if not mutually exclusive. It is not too much to conclude, on the basis of the statutory evidence, that the sheltered workshop has become an anachronism which America, if it is to practice successfully the democratic welfare philosophy it professes, can ill afford to perpetuate.

Gimme Shelter

There is an irony in the history of the sheltered workshops that is illustrated by the operative term sheltered. Originally it was the employment itself, reserved for the blind or disabled, that was sheltered from competition by the able-bodied; in that sense, for an earlier era in which the blind as a class were regarded as unemployable, the concept of a work shelter could appear as positive and constructive. In those protected and segregated shops the blind were given work to do (however menial); they were taught a trade (however trivial); they were paid a wage (however marginal); and they were rescued from the vice of idleness. In the Depression decade of the 1930s, when the original legislation now known as the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act was passed, that must have seemed a substantial step forward for the blind. The new law sheltered them from competition in the setting of the workshop; but it was not only the blind workers who were sheltered by the lawit was the enterprise itself. The Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act provided a shelter for the workshop industry and its management from the harsh reality of the minimum wage. The shops were legislatively gifted with the windfall of a wage sheltersomething even better than a tax shelter exempting them from the requirements of all other federal laws governing wages and hours, working conditions, and fair labor standards. In their special field of employment, with regard to their own pool of workers, the sheltered shops were able at a stroke to repeal half a century of humanitarian reforms on the part of organized labor and the federal government. Everywhere else laboring men and womenlet alone children were legislatively protected from exploitation in the workplace; everywhere else workers had acquired a legal shelter. But not here. In the sheltered workshop alone the blind workers were unsheltered.

It was a principal goal of the organized blind movement, virtually from the beginning, to change all that: to reform the sheltered workshops, enforce the minimum wage, and generally defend blind shopworkers from exploitation and harassment. During the first decade of the Federation, to be sure, the plight of the sheltered broom maker and basket weaver seemed less critical to the movement's leaders than the predicament of other blind people who had no work at all and no security other than that which the Federation itself was gradually carving out of the nearly impervious hide of government. But in the second decade of the Federation, the fifties--largely through the efforts of the organized blind themselves--the new issues of opportunity, competitive jobs, and new careers were taking precedence over the problems of security and subsistence on the agenda of Federationists. In this altered context the sheltered workshops took on a role not of diminished but of greater prominence; now the issue was one of worker rights, of the minimum wage, and of vocational rehabilitation changes which would move workers out of the shelters and into the mainstream.

Unionizing and the Minimum Wage

During the fifties and sixties the Federation became actively involved in defending the rights of blind shop workers to organize collectively, to express grievances, and to seek a living wage. These efforts led to the establishment in 1971 of a Sheltered Workshop Division within the National Federation of the Blind.

The struggle of the organized blind to reform the sheltered workshops was fought out through the years not only in the press and in the workplace but also in the courts. In the late 1970s and early eighties the Federation brought before the National Labor Relations Board a series of cases involving the right of blind shop workers to organize. The earlier opinions of the Board that the blind were not really employees at all but only rehabilitation clients were now repudiated; in each instance the NLRB affirmed the right of blind workers to join unions and bargain collectively. Several of these cases were appealed by the shop management to the courts. In both the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the right to organize was upheld. However, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit refused to follow the recommendation of the labor board; instead, it held that the blind inmates of the sheltered shops, whatever in fact they were, could not be regarded as employees.

The first of the workshop cases which the Federation took to the NLRB was the one involving the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. This was in 1975, and it was to be a nasty fight. Federation leader James Omvig (a blind attorney uniquely suited to the task, being both a former shopworker at the Chicago Lighthouse and a former hearing officer for the National Labor Relations Board) played an important role in shaping the Federation's long drive to win collective bargaining rights for the blind in sheltered workshops. He served as an officer in the Sheltered Workshop Division; he contacted workers in the shops and did organizing; and he wrote the brief in the Chicago Lighthouse casea pivotal document which resulted on June 28, 1976, in the reversal by the National Labor Relations Board of its long-standing policy not to take jurisdiction over the nation's sheltered workshops.

In an address delivered at the National Warehouse Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Toronto, Canada, on August 15, 1978, Kenneth Jernigan summed up the situation in Chicago and a number of other workshops. Here, in part, is what he said:

I am here today to tell you something about our organization. More particularly, I am here because you the Teamsters have helped us start on the road to organize the workers in the so-called sheltered shops for the blind. Let me tell you something about these shops. In the first place most blind persons could work in regular business and industry on equal terms with others (just as productive and just as competitive) if they had the training and the opportunity. But they don't, so they work in the sheltered shops.

Some of these shops are run by state government. Many of them are private organizations set up by a few prominent citizens in the community, who get publicity and satisfaction from serving on the board and having their names connected with a worthwhile cause but who really know very little about what goes on in the day-to-day operation. The real control is usually exercised by the paid (highly paid) director and other management staff.

The managers of the workshops have had a good thing of it. They have had prestige and respect in the community; they have raised money in the name of helping the blind; and very few questions have been asked, because it has been thought they were doing such noble work in helping unfortunate people. They have told the Congress that the blind are not capable of real productivity, and so they have been permitted to pay less than the minimum wage (sometimes as little as fifty cents an hour) on the theory that the activity in the shops is not actually real work as much as it is therapy, that it is rehabilitation training to prepare the workers to go into competitive employment, and that the shops will go broke (have you heard that before?) if they pay the workers decent wages and fringe benefits. Yet, they have enough money to pay salaries often running to more than $50,000 a year to their top management. They can afford fancy offices, a lot of travel to conferences in expensive hotels, and a very thorough package of fringe benefits for supervisors and other professional staff. Blind workers can be laid off or fired at will; and they often have no sick leave, no vacation, and no say about working conditions.

The songs people sing tell a great deal about their lives. In the National Federation of the Blind we have several songs about sheltered shops. One of these is sung to the tune of the religious song Bringing in the Sheaves, but it is titled Bringing in the Thieves. The chorus goes like this:

Bringing in the thieves, Bringing in the thieves, The workshops come rejoicing, Bringing in the thieves.

As you might imagine, the thieves to which the reference is made are not the workers. Another song is done to the tune of I've Been Workin' on the Railroad. It is called I've Been Workin' in the Workshop, and goes like this:

I've been workin' in the workshop, All the livelong day, And with the wages that they pay me, It's just to pass my time away.

In 1960 the blind workers in the San Diego shop asked the National Labor Relations Board to order an election to permit them to unionize. In a three-to-two split decision the Board refused to take jurisdiction, having been propagandized by management into believing that the prime purpose of the shop was rehabilitative in nature and, therefore, that the blind workers did not need the same rights and protections enjoyed by other Americans in the work force. It was 1976 before we could get this decision reversed. That was the Chicago Lighthouse case. And it was 1978 before we really locked it up. That was when you the Teamsters helped us organize the Cincinnati Association for the Blind.

Since they are either governmental or nonprofit organizations, the workshops pay no taxes. They receive heavy subsidies from the government, and they receive donations from the general public. Federal legislation requires government agencies to buy products from the shops. I am not complaining about all of this. I am only saying that if it is going to happen, I don't want all of the pie to go to management. I want the workers to have a few bites, too.

The workshops have traditionally made brooms, mops, and mattresses. More recently they have received large government contracts to produce a wide variety of items and have subcontracted with private industry.

The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind operates a sheltered shop. When the workers began to try to organize in 1975, blind persons were being paid less than the minimum wage, and working conditions were badno job protection, no rights, and no collective bargaining. Seventy to eighty percent of all workshop contracts were with the Skilcraft Corporation. Skilcraft had no assembly and packaging employees of its own. All assembly and packaging were done by blind employees of the Lighthouse in Skilcraft's own building. None of the individuals was paid the federal minimum wage, and there were no fringe benefits whatsoever. Therefore, in truth and in fact these blind people were employees of Skilcraft, and the Chicago Lighthouse was nothing more than a front for an employer who wanted cheap labor. The workers were not much better off than slaves.

The Chicago Lighthouse tried to explain it by saying that the blind were not employees but were clients, who were in the process of being rehabilitated and trained for outside competitive employment. It was a mighty long period of training. Some of these so-called clients had worked for the Lighthouse for from ten to fifteen years. So the Lighthouse had (and for all I know, still has) two classes of workers: one group (all blind) called clients, and the other group (mostly sighted) called employees. As the National Federation of the Blind said in its brief to the National Labor Relations Board in 1976, Those called 'employees' receive paid vacations, sick leave, paid holidays, personal leave days, hospitalization insurance, life insurance, pension benefits, workmen's compensation benefits, and unemployment insurance; those called 'clients' do not.

In all other respects, our brief said, employees and 'clients' receive equal treatment. They are supervised, punch a time clock, work eight-hour days, and observe all of the employer's policies. For instance, the employer has a policy that if an individual is sick for more than two days, he must produce a verifying doctor's statement upon his return to work. Astounding as it may be, the worker who is characterized as a 'client' must follow this policy even though he receives no pay for his time off from work. He must spend his own money in order to get the doctor's statement.

The National Labor Relations Board ordered an election at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind in the summer of 1976. Before the election was held, the principal worker engaged in organizing was fired. We lost the election. Shortly afterward, three more leaders of the effort to organize were fired.

The blind of the nation collected what money they could to help feed those fired workers. We are now trying to organize again at the Chicago Lighthouse, and another leading organizer has been fired. We will share what we have with him. To the extent that we have it or can get it, we will see that he has money for food and clothes.

In Massachusetts a few days ago there was a transit strike. State employees were paid for the day on the theory that they could not get to work. Blind workers at the state workshop (also state employees) were not paid for the daypresumably on the theory that they couldn't do anything about it. The Massachusetts workshop is considering a list of factors on which to evaluate its workers. Some of the factors are these: reaction to criticism, reaction to praise, reaction to authority, reaction to co-workers, acceptance of responsibility, posture, sound localization, sense of humor, independent action, worker self-concept, social conduct, motivation, dependability, initiative, work quality, and work quantity. There are other factors on the list, but I think I have given you enough to make the point. The only two things on that list that really ought to be given very much weight are the quantity and the quality of the work the employee does. I am particularly struck by management's intention to evaluate the blind workers on their sense of humor. It's a bad joke. With conditions what they are in the sheltered shop there's not a whole lot to laugh about.

We have a job to do in Massachusetts; and, again, I hope and believe that you will be at our side. You were with us in Cincinnati a few weeks ago when the shopworkers voted to be represented by the Teamsters. I am told that some of the workers in the Cincinnati shop make 58 cents an hour while the director of the organization makes upwards of $50,000 a year. I look forward to the contract talks, and I suspect you do, too.

Chicago was to be a turning point, for armed with the NLRB decision that blind shop workers had the right to organize, the Federation intensified its campaign in shops throughout the country. The Cincinnati Association for the Blind and the Houston Lighthouse for the Blind were organizedand this time the elections were not lost, and the workers were not fired. But the road was long and tortuous. The drama of the situation and the intensity of the struggle can be seen in an article in the December, 1979, Braille Monitor:


The battle being waged by the blind to secure a firm and universal recognition of the fundamental right of blind shop workers to organize and bargain collectively with management through labor unions has in recent years moved to center stage, occupying the spotlight as a central issue which divides those of us who are working to rise from second-class status in society from those at the center of power in the traditional agency structure who desperately want to continue to exercise control over us as inferiors. The decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over the past three and one-half years; increased attention by the Congress and the U.S. Department of Labor to our calls for minimum wage; the investigations of state officials (especially the audits and legislative reports issued on the workshops in New York State); and the exposes by investigative reporters for the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, and the CBS television program 60 Minutes have forced the agency overlords to defend their conduct in a public arena where it is increasingly unacceptable to hide behind the cloak of professionalism and all-knowing expertise.

Now on the heels of these other events comes perhaps the most dramatic and significant single breakthrough to date: two landmark rulings by the NLRB which in the immediate sense affect the workers at both the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and the Houston Lighthouse for the Blind, but in the long run will bring profound and lasting changes in the entire workshop system and in the relationship between the blind (especially the organized blind) and the agencies which have been set up to serve them. The latest decisions and orders were handed down by the Labor Board on September 18; they were direct and unequivocal, the basic right of blind sheltered shop workers to form a collective bargaining unit and to designate a labor union to represent them has been upheld in the face of the strongest and best financed opposition possible. There is no question about it now; there is no qualification or wiggling. The NLRB has now taken final and positive action with respect to the Cincinnati Association for the Blind, and the Houston Lighthouse is not far behind.

In the Braille Monitor for August-September, 1978, we described the organizing campaign at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and underscored the significance of the victory which was achieved when, on June 7, 1978, the 79 workers at the Cincinnati Association who were eligible to vote in the union representation election determined, by a vote of 44 to 35, that they would be represented by Local No. 100 of the Truck Drivers, Chauffeurs, and Helpers Union, affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America. On June 15, 1978, the Regional Director of the NLRB certified the election of Teamster's Local 100 as the exclusive representative of the employees (including those which are often referred to as clients) at the Cincinnati Association. This was a truly historic event, the strongest affirmation ever of the right of the blind to organize and bargain collectively, but little did most of us know that the toughest battle had just begun.

The first indications that we were still in for a long, hard fight came during the summer of 1978 when the Teamsters contacted the Cincinnati Association to initiate the collective bargaining process. Several good-faith attempts were made to bring the Association to the bargaining table, but to no avail rulings of the NLRB seemed to make no difference, the Cincinnati Association would not negotiate a contract. We are well accustomed to hearing the agency overlords speak of themselves and their expertise in the loftiest of terms usually reserved only for the highest ministers of state, so we were not overly astonished when Milton Jahoda, executive director of the Cincinnati Association, refused to comply with federal labor law by failing to recognize a duly authorized and officially certified collective bargaining unit representing his workers. By late August it became clear to all of us, and to officials of the NLRB as well, that the Cincinnati Association would not bargain with the blind through the Teamsters Union unless forced to do so by an authority higher than the Labor Board, perhaps a Federal Court.

On August 31, 1978, the General Counsel of the NLRB commenced the actions necessary to compel the Cincinnati Association to come to the bargaining table and negotiate an agreement with the workers through the Union. This action took the form of an unfair labor practice charge leveled against the Cincinnati Association by the General Counsel of the NLRB and filed with the Board itself for a determination. The Association, as expected, denied the charge, arguing that there were no valid grounds for the Labor Board to order a union election in the first place, so now that a union had been voted in it should not have to comply with the demands for collective bargaining. This amounted to a full-blown appeal of the Labor Board's original decision handed down in May of 1978 ordering the election for union representation.

That the case of the Cincinnati Association goes far beyond the confines of that single workshop is (or ought to be) readily apparent, but in case there are any doubts, consider what happened next in the proceedings before the NLRB enter, National Industries for the Blind (NIB), intervener, defending the actions of Respondent, Cincinnati Association for the Blind, and calling for repudiation of the Labor Board's original decision in the Cincinnati Case. NIB is the well-financed and federally designated coordinating agency responsible for allocating federal government and other contracts to its affiliated workshops throughout the country, and in turn (for its services) NIB receives a percentage (four percent for most non-military, and ten percent for most military, contracts) of the gross sales under these contracts. During the fiscal year ending September 30, 1978, there were gross sales in the NIB system exceeding $120,000,000. Many of NIB's executives are former military top brass, retired on taxpayer-funded pensions. At last report, in the spring of 1979, the organization had no blind employees in a work force of approximately 60. Total salaries and pension contributions in the year ended June, 1977, exceeded $1 million, and you can be sure that no one on NIB's staff earns less than minimum wage.

NIB, then, is an organization which primarily coordinates workshop contracting; hence virtually its only source of revenue is the percentage it receives on each contract, which, in turn, is paid for out of the proceeds generated by production activity in the workshops, all of which means that the blind who work in the workshops (many on less than minimum wage) contribute substantially toward paying the salaries of NIB's well compensated executives, many of whom also dip into the federal coffers for their not so meager military retirement pensions. But this is only part of the financial arrangementit also follows that since NIB's income is primarily generated by the productivity of the blind workers in the workshops, any actions which NIB takes, such as intervening on behalf of the Cincinnati Association for the Blind before the NLRB, will be financed by the sweat from the blind workers' brows as well. And so this is how it is with NIB. The blind workers should be proud you never go second-class when you go with NIB, unless, of course, you are the one who is really doing the work to bring home the money to pay the bills; but even so, the blind workers will be proud to know that through their collective efforts they managed to provide NIB with enough income to hire what is generally regarded as the most prestigious (and the most expensive) law firm in Washington, D.C. (the firm of Covington and Burling), to argue the NIB case against the blind before the Labor Board.

In terms of the longer view, the appeal by the Cincinnati Association for the Blind, backed by the NIB with its historic and continuing ties to the rest of the AFB, NAC, ACB, and ALL combine, has to be seen as just one more in a series of preplanned tactics to break the back of the Union by disregarding the will of the blind as expressed by their democratic vote. There was really no substantive issue left for the NLRB to decide, and the Cincinnati Association knew this, but perhaps it was the feeling that, with the money of NIB and the prestige of its high-priced law firm, the original decision just might be overturned, and even if it was not, look what could be gained; another year of paying less than minimum wage, another year with few or no benefits for the workers, another year with no show-up pay, and another year without having to bargain with the Labor Union.

So the appeal went forward at the Labor Board, and along the way the Federation intervened on behalf of the blind and the local Teamsters Union; briefs were filed; the months went by, while the workers inside the workshop did their best to keep their spirits and their hopes up with the encouragement of NFB leaders and members from throughout the country. Then, on September 18, the waiting was over--the decision was issued--we had come face-to-face with the power and the money of the agencies, and we had won again. The decision which came down is an important one, for it establishes more firmly than ever before our right to organize and bargain collectively and finds that, by blocking the exercise of this right by the blind workers in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Association for the Blind is guilty of unfair labor practices which are prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act. Better yet, the Association is now ordered by the Labor Board to cease and desist from further committing these unfair labor practices and to initiate collective bargaining with its employees through the Teamsters Union. The decision and order by the Board reads in part as follows (references to the Act mean the National Labor Relations Act, as amended):

Conclusions of Law

1. Cincinnati Association for the Blind is an employer engaged in commerce within the meaning of Section 2(6) and (7) of the Act. 

2. Truck Drivers, Chauffeurs, and Helpers Local Union No. 100, affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America, is a labor organization within the meaning of Section 2(5) of the Act.

3. All production and maintenance employees and clients, including shipping and receiving employees, of Respondent's workshop located at 2045 Gilbert Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio, excluding office clerical employees, professional employees, guards and supervisors as defined in the Act, constitute a unit appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining within the meaning of Section 9(b) of the Act.

4. Since June 15, 1978, the above-named labor organization has been and now is the certified and exclusive representative of all employees in the aforesaid appropriate unit for the purpose of collective bargaining within the meaning of Section 9(a) of the Act.

5. By refusing on or about August 25, 1978, and at all times thereafter, to bargain collectively with the above-named labor organization as the exclusive bargaining representative of all the employees of Respondent in the appropriate unit, Respondent has engaged in and is engaging in unfair labor practices within the meaning of Section 8(a)(5) of the Act.

6. By the aforesaid refusal to bargain, Respondent has interfered with, restrained, and coerced, and is interfering with, restraining, and coercing, employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed them in Section 7 of the Act, and thereby has engaged in and is engaging in unfair labor practices within the meaning of Section 8(a)(l) of the Act.

7. The aforesaid unfair labor practices are unfair labor practices affecting commerce within the meaning of Section 2(6) and (7) of the Act.


Pursuant to Section 10(c) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, the National Labor Relations Board hereby orders that the Respondent, Cincinnati Association for the Blind, Cincinnati, Ohio, its officers, agents, successors, and assigns, shall:

1. Cease and desist from:

(a) Refusing to bargain collectively concerning rates of pay, wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment with Truck Drivers, Chauffeurs, and Helpers Local Union No. 100, affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, as the exclusive bargaining representative of its employees.

(b) In any like or related manner interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed them in Section 7 of the Act.

2. Take the following affirmative action which the Board finds will effectuate the policies of the Act:

(a) Upon request, bargain with the above-named labor organization as the exclusive representative of all employees in the aforesaid appropriate unit with respect to rates of pay, wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, and, if an understanding is reached, embody such understanding in a signed agreement.

(b) Post at 2045 Gilbert Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio, copies of the attached notice marked Appendix. Copies of said notice, on forms provided by the Regional Director for Region 9, after being duly signed by Respondent's representative, shall be posted by Respondent immediately upon receipt thereof, and be maintained by it for 60 consecutive days thereafter, in conspicuous places, including all places where notices to employees are customarily posted. Reasonable steps shall be taken by Respondent to insure that said notices are not altered, defaced, or covered by any other material.

(c) Notify the Regional Director for Region 9, in writing, within 20 days from the date of this Order, what steps have been taken to comply herewith.

Dated, Washington, D.C., September 18, 1979

By any standard this is a resounding victory and one which has not been handed to us on a silver platter. There have been expensive legal bills together with much ground-work and educating of the Teamsters, and Federationists and their friends by the thousands have all had a part in bringing this great day about. Of course, it goes without saying that the battle continues; orders of the National Labor Relations Board are not self-enforcing, and you can be sure that the Cincinnati Association, having firmly established its course of non-negotiation will not willingly retreat. The notice referred to as an Appendix to the Labor Board's Order amounts to an affirmation that the Cincinnati Association will recognize its obligation to come to the bargaining table and enter into an agreement with its workers, but as expected, the Association refuses to sign or post the notice and has instead filed a petition with the Federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, asking to have the decision and order of the NLRB reviewed and set aside.

Thus the battle in Cincinnati now moves from the National Labor Relations Board to the Federal Courts. More time will be taken; there will be more delays; more briefs, oral arguments will be scheduled, and the months will go by while the blind workers inside the workshop at the Cincinnati Association will try to keep their spirits up, hoping for a swift and satisfactory conclusion of the next steps in this series of classic maneuvers to establish the right to organize and bargain collectively. As the months spread before us all, the strength and resolve of all Federationists will be needed to see the battle in Cincinnati through to its ultimate conclusion. Our energy, our time, our strong and confident voice, along with especially our money and our collective will must be available as never before. Yes, the battle grows long in Cincinnati, but even so, all blind people have more dignity and a better status in society today because of it.

Meanwhile at the Houston Lighthouse, events, similar to those which had occurred before the election for Union representation in Cincinnati, were taking place. In the Braille Monitor for April, 1979, we reported the decision of the Regional Director for the National Labor Relations Board in Houston who, exercising his own authority, ordered an election at the Houston Lighthouse. The Lighthouse, as we reported in April, appealed to the National Board in Washington, and the Board decided that it would review the Regional Director's decision, while temporarily upholding the order for an election and impounding the ballot box pending the outcome of the review.

In a way, while it was somewhat disappointing (and certainly served to delay matters) for the full Board to review the Regional Director's decision, the fact that the original decision was made at all at the Regional level was heartening for it shows that a clearer precedent has been established as the result of Cincinnati and the earlier case in Chicago. In both Cincinnati and Chicago it will be remembered that the NLRB Regional Directors declined to rule on the petitions for election, passing the cases along for full Board action in Washington. Now, with the Labor Board's firm orders in Cincinnati and Houston, we can expect more decisive and positive action at the Regional level as future cases are brought to the NLRB.

Again, in Houston, the months went by as attorneys for the respective parties and our attorneys (the Federation had been admitted into the case as an intervener) filed their briefs and made their arguments. Not surprisingly, the issues were identical to those in the Cincinnati case: Are blind workers to be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act? Is the Lighthouse substantially engaged in business activity and commercial enterprise? Would it effectuate the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act for the Labor Board to assert jurisdiction? The Board had already decided the Cincinnati Case in 1978 on these and related questions, so it now remained to determine whether Houston was similar enough to invoke the Cincinnati precedent. The Board determined that it was. The decision on review reads in part (the employer referred to in the decision is the Houston Lighthouse for the Blind):

The fifth department within the Employer's operations is the Industrial Division which is the one involved herein. This division generates almost 90 percent of the Employer's annual revenues. The Industrial Division produces felt-tipped pens, mops, and commercial scrub brushes; bottles disinfectants and detergents; and performs subcontracting work. In 1977 the Industrial Division manufactured 40,539,744 felt-tipped pens, 250,000 mops, and 300,000 brushes. In addition it produced 145,000 gallons of disinfectant and 30,000 gallons of detergents. Items such as the mops and brushes manufactured by Workshop A of the Industrial Division are sold in market outlets in Harris County and Houston, Texas. Pursuant to contracts with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), many of the felt-tipped pens, as well as the detergent and the disinfectant, are supplied to the Federal government. The Industrial Division also performs subcontracting work including, inter alia, assembling fishing rod holders, performing grease check assembly work, and filling notebook binders with inserts for various companies.

In 1977 the Industrial Division generated $4,620,000 worth of revenue from sales of the merchandise described above. These revenues netted a profit of $237,000 for the Employer which was utilized in other areas of its operations. The Employer's total revenue income in 1977 was $5,195,000 which included, in addition to the revenue from the Industrial Division, fees from state programs, donations from the United Fund, grants, contributions, and other donations. Expenditures by the Employer in 1977 included $3,631,000 for materials and goods, $752,000 for labor costs and other industrial operations, $644,000 for rehabilitation, and $123,000 for general administrative expenses. The balance of these totals reveals that the Employer netted a profit of $45,000.

The Employer also contends that the Board should decline jurisdiction on discretionary grounds. In this regard, the Employer maintains that its commercial activity is merely ancillary to its purpose of providing rehabilitation to handicapped persons and that the impact of the Employer's operations on interstate commerce is not sufficient to warrant the Board's assertion of jurisdiction. We do not agree.

Although the Employer contends that but for the grants from charities such as the United Way and moneys received from the Federal Government for experimental purposes, it would have lost $244,000 in 1977, the record amply demonstrates the impact and nature of the Employer's industrial operations with respect to commerce. Thus, as noted above, the Employer enters into contracts with the General Services Administration of the United States Government as well as other employers in the Houston area to manufacture and distribute products. The Employer's merchandising sales from its Industrial Division accounted for approximately 88.5 percent of the total revenues received by the Employer in 1977. A similar percentage was expended toward the operations of the In- dustrial Division. The production figures noted above, including the manufacture of 40 million pens and various other items, indicates to us that, contrary to its assertions, the Employer's substantial production and distribution of items by its Industrial Division attest to the commercial nature of the Employer's operations. Further, it is clear that the Employer endeavors to increase its manufacturing output, broaden its markets, and essentially operates as would a private employer. For these reasons we find no basis for exercising our discretion to decline jurisdiction, but rather conclude that it will effectuate the purposes of the Act to assert jurisdiction over the Employer.


The Employer further contends that its handicapped workers in Workshop A, who are the subject of the instant petition, are not employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the Act. The Employer argues that the relationship between the Employer and its clients is one of rehabilitation. Both the Petitioner and the Federation assert that the persons in the petitioned-for unit are statutory employees and that the Employer's operations are commercial in nature.

The record in the instant case shows that the Employer operates Workshop A under normal business conditions and that Workshop A employees are treated essentially as are regular employees in the private sector. Employees in Workshop A are paid at least the minimum wage, the range being from $2.89 to $3.40 per hour based on performance. These employees are paid overtime rates when working more than 8 hours a day. Moreover, they are eligible to receive merit raises based on productivity, and these merit raises are subject to rescission if the employee does not demonstrate that this productivity can be sustained at that level. Employees in Workshop A receive a retirement program, vacations, and health benefits. They are covered under workmen's compensation and unemployment compensation. They punch a timeclock. They have nine paid holidays per year. Social Security deductions are made from their paychecks. While the Employer maintains that its relationship to a person in Workshop A is one primarily of rehabilitation, the record shows, for example, that with respect to discipline the Employer resolves these problems using normal economic and business considerations. Thus, there is undisputed evidence that employees have been terminated and suspended for, among other things, fighting, insubordination, low production, refusal to work, excessive tardiness, and excessive absenteeism. Moreover, although the Employer attempts to place employees in private industry, the record shows that many of these employees returned to the Industrial Division Workshop A. We also note that a large proportion of the employee complement of Workshop A has worked for Employer for at least 10 years and some for as many as 20 years.

These facts lead us to agree with the observation of one of the Employer's witnesses at the hearing in this case that the Industrial Division operates like any manufacturing operation. It is clear from these facts and the facts as recited by the Regional Director that the Employer's relationship with its Workshop A clients is guided to a great extent by business considerations. We therefore conclude that the employees in Workshop A of the Employer's Industrial Division are employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the Act. Accordingly, we affirm the Regional Director's Decision and Direction of Election and direct that the ballots which had been impounded be opened and counted by the Regional Director and that thereafter he take such further appropriate action as required by Section 102.69 of the Board's Rules and Regulations, Series 8, as amended.

Dated, Washington, D.C., September 18, 1979

On September 24, pursuant to the Board's order, the ballots cast by the workers at the Houston Lighthouse were opened by the Regional Director of the NLRB, and, by an affirmative vote of 47 to 17, they became the second group of sheltered shop employees to designate a labor union (once again the Teamsters) to represent them for purposes of collective bargaining. At this writing, in late September, the process of officially certifying the union's election is going forward, and you can be sure that there will be as many appeals as possible until the matter, as in the case of Cincinnati, reaches the Federal Courts.

We have traveled a very long road from the days when the right to organize and bargain collectively was a dream and a hope expressed in our resolutions and public statements to the point where this right is now recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, but this is where the latest rulings by the NLRB have placed us. No one should think that the battle is over, however, for there will be many more delays, more appeals, more briefs, and more rulings. The course of the future is clear, though, and we are firmly resolved to follow it through. In doing so we confront money, prestige, and all the power of the traditional agency establishment in work with the blind, because one thing it cannot tolerate is recognizing the essential right which blind people have to speak, think, and act for themselves through their chosen representatives, whether the representative selected is a Labor Union or the National Federation of the Blind.

In a very real sense, this is the most significant message transmitted by the most recent events in the battle to bring organized labor into the sheltered workshops. We have often said that they do not want us to speak for ourselves, and if there was ever need for proof of this truism, here it is in the cases of Houston and Cincinnati. The field of work with the blind is full of people who are determined to carve out our destiny for us, and they firmly intend to do it, using any tactic which they can find, never mind considerations of right and wrong, morality, or even matters of legality.

One almost wonders, with the rulings of the National Labor Relations Board, if the agency overlords will now begin to say that the members of the Board are surely bad and corrupt people, probably as bad and corrupt, they will likely say, as that dogmatic and abrasive National Federation of the Blind and its irrational President, Kenneth Jernigan. Perhaps the members of the Board will become the subject of personal attack and abuse in the pages of the Des Moines Register. Likely as not Chairman Fanning (chairman of the National Labor Relations Board) will be charged with megalomania. How dare him order a workshop for the blind to listen and respond to the blind people; shame, shame. And who can tell, maybe, just maybe, the Register will discover that the windows of the building occupied by the NLRB in Washington are made of a mys- terious substance known as Lexan.

No question about it, the recent developments on the workshop organizing front must be seen in the context of the broader struggle of the blind to achieve equality and first-class status in the face of the stubborn and often mulish resistance of the very agencies which some might say practice fraud upon the general public by holding themselves out as the helpers of the blind while actually subjecting the blind to the worst forms of slavery ever known. And it is significant, as in the case of the minorities who have gone before us, that we have only ourselves to count on for support and strength.

There is much to be said about this; we have often asked, where is the American Council of the Blind, and the inevitable answer comes back: Down in the barnyard with the agencies, slinging mud at the blind who have the nerve to stand up and make decisions for themselves. And what about this outfit called ALL (the Affiliated Leadership League of and for the Blind)? It purports to work on behalf of all those of and for the blind. Where was it when the Labor Board ruled? Nowhere to be found; ALL gone, if you will.

But we know where we were, we were on the barricades in Cincinnati, and we were fighting in the trenches in Houston. This we did, and this we must continue to do. The twin victories of Cincinnati and Houston have opened up vast new possibilities for the blind who work in other workshops throughout this country, and for all of us they have provided a new sense of personal dignity and a resounding affirmation of the absolute necessity to maintain a strong and truly independent organized blind movement through the National Federation of the Blind. It is one more answer to the question Why the National Federation of the Blind. It is another way of underlying our battle cry of recent years (a battle cry which is not a necessary slogan but a way of life and a statement of faith in ourselves, in society, and in the future). The battle cry is increasingly repeated and increasingly understood: We know who we are, and we will never go back.

The early and mid-1980s were to see a series of skirmishes and battles between the blind and the workshops throughout the country. In Cincinnati and Houston shop management appealed to the courts, and both of them ultimately lost. The Cincinnati administrators sought to have the United States Supreme Court review their case, but the court declined. Unions were established in Cincinnati and Houston, and efforts were made in North Carolina, Arkansas, and elsewhere. In Arkansas the vote to unionize the Lighthouse for the Blind was lost in the heat of a furious conflict, but the National Labor Relations Board ruled that there had been such flagrant abuse and so many unfair labor practices that a union should be established despite the election. Management then appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court, and contrary to the rulings of both the Fifth and Sixth Circuits, the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the shop in 1988.

In 1986 Congress, at the urging of the National Federation of the Blind, amended the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was a landmark amendment. From the beginning the blind employees of sheltered shops had been excluded from the minimum-wage provisions of the act; and those who believed they were being paid unfairly had no effective way of protesting. The 1986 amendments changed all that; no longer were blind workers powerless to seek justice and secure their rights. The full significance of the legal change, and its consequences for blind workers, were spelled out in an article by Kenneth Jernigan appearing in the November 1989, issue of the Braille Monitor:


by Kenneth Jernigan

It is common knowledge that most of the workshops for the blind in the United States have substandard working conditions and pay shamefully low wages to their blind employees. They can get away with this because of a provision in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act which says that blind shop workers may be paid less than the minimum wage if they cannot produce as much as a sighted worker similarly situated in private industry. Of course, sighted workers in private industry cannot be paid less than the minimum wage regardless of their productive capacity. And then there is also the question of how productive capacity is measured and who is similarly situated.

Presumably tests are made, but we have repeatedly demonstrated that many of those tests are rigged. What would happen to the average factory worker in the United States if there were no federal labor laws, no unions, and no governmental mechanisms for inspection? All we have to do for an answer is to look at what happened during the last century. But with the blind it is even worse. Nobody believes that the average sighted person is incapable of working competitively, but the traditional wisdom is that the blind are substandard and only able to work if they are given charity and special consideration. Attitudes are changing, but the outmoded notions are still far too prevalent.

In the circumstances it is not surprising that sheltered workshop managers take advantage of the situation and exploit. It would be remarkable if they did not. There are budgets to meet, administrative salaries to pay, and little likelihood that the managers will have to pay penalties (and certainly not personal penalties) if they stretch the law or cheat. Therefore, they say that their employees are not really workers at all but just trainees, that most of them are multiply handicapped, and that the workers (no, trainees) like the conditions at the shop, and wouldn't have them otherwise.

So what do you do if you are a blind employee in a sheltered shop in the United States today? If you complain, try to help form a union, or contact government authorities, you are likely to get fired, have your wages cut, or be told that there just isn't enough work to keep you on a full-time basis. It may be done with big words and professional terminology. It may even be documented and supported by studies but it hurts just as much, and the message is just as clear. On the other hand, if you remain silent, you are likely to continue with starvation wages and substandard conditions for the rest of your life. It is not easy, and it is not pleasant; but it is the everyday experience of many blind shop workers throughout the country.

Here is where the National Federation of the Blind comes in. Unlike labor unions, we are knowledgeable about the Fair Labor Standards dodge and the ways of the professionals, and we cannot be bamboozled. Moreover, we are strong enough to resist pressure, and we cannot be intimidated. Through our division for shop workers (the Blind Industrial Workers of America) and through local chapters, workshop employees are joining the Federation in growing numbers. They are beginning to have heightened expectations and to feel their strength.

President Maurer recently received a letter from an NFB chapter officer concerning conditions in the local workshop. The letter and President Maurer's response are indicative of what is beginning to happen in the shops, and I want to share them with you. For obvious reasons the name and locality are being omitted. These letters should cause each of us to do soul-searching and to ask ourselves what action we can take to help the shop workers in our local areas. Regardless of our financial situation or social position, each of us has a stake in what happens to the shop workers. Their struggle is our struggle; their hope is our hope; their dream is our dream. Here is the correspondence:

Dear President Maurer:

At our last chapter meeting we discussed at length the workshop for the blind here in our city. As I am sure you know, this is a sheltered workshop that employs many handicapped persons, including a few blind, and some of our chapter members. Most of these people, including myself, are paid less than the minimum wage. Last July there was a ruling by the board of directors of the shop that they were going to pay each worker what he or she produced and no longer have any make-up pay. In the past each person was guaranteed a base rate and also received more than that if his piece rate was above this rate.

Since only about fifteen percent are blind, it is next to impossible to get a union in there. Many of the workers are slow learners and would not understand the benefits of the union. Often we are put on jobs where we do not make close to the minimum wage, and the shop management assures us that soon new time studies will be made but they never are. The employees are hesitant to file a complaint with the Labor Board because we are fearful that if a hearing were held, we would still not get the higher wages.

It was mentioned at our last chapter meeting that the Federationists who are working at the shop should sign a petition, stating the complaints, and circulating it to the suppliers of contracts for the shop, thus making them aware of the problem.

Our chapter is wanting to help in any way it can, but we do not want to do the wrong thing. We have thought of going to the press or the news media, but the local stations have been doing advertising for the workshop. Any advice you can give is appreciated by all of us.

Sincerely yours,

Baltimore, Maryland


I have your recent letter describing problems of blind workers at your local workshop. In 1986 a law was adopted by Congress at the urging of the National Federation of the Blind. This law said that any person working in a sheltered workshop for the blind who was being paid less than the minimum wage had the right to file an appeal with the Department of labor. The Department of Labor is responsible for conducting a hearing to determine whether the wages paid to the blind employee are proper. The employer must demonstrate that the wages are fair. If the employer fails to do this, the blind worker is entitled to receive at least the minimum wage. The burden of proof is on the employer. The employee does not have to show that the wages paid are unfair. Subminimum wages are presumed to be unfair unless the sheltered shop administrator can show that they are reasonable.

It is not necessary to establish a union before the complaints are filed with the Department of Labor. The complaints may be filed whether there is a union established or not. If workers want to file such a complaint, the National Office of the Federation is ready to help.

If a workshop is to receive contracts from the federal government through National Industries for the Blind, seventy-five percent (75%) of its direct labor hours must be performed by blind employees. If your local workshop is using very many sighted laborers, it may be in violation of those standards. A complaint may be in order on these grounds as well.

If there are workers who want to raise these questions or others before the Department of Labor, please let me know. Part of the reason for the National Federation of the Blind is to help with problems like these.


Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind

This is the letter from the local chapter and President Maurer's response. Is it any wonder that the managers of the sheltered shops resent the Federation and call us names? Is it any wonder that they have voted to give up to $200,000 a year to NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped)? Is it any wonder that NAC is willing to take the money and to accredit these organizations? The answers are obvious, and they speak for themselves.

The pattern of substandard working conditions and subminimum wages prevailed in numerous sheltered workshops throughout the decade of the eighties, despite the 1986 amendments and the earlier blistering exposure of these practices in the Wall Street Journal in January of 1979. Conditions in the workshops were chillingly described in several hearings before committees of Congress. For example, one employee of a sheltered shop in Utah, Premo Foianini, was beaten with a stick by his supervisor for daring to offer testimony concerning the exploitive wages and sweatshop conditions in his workplace. The report of another situation in the Richmond, Virginia, sheltered shopknown as the Virginia Industries for the Blind may be taken as typical of many. This is how it appeared in the Monitor of May-June, 1988:


This article appears in the January 1988, Newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. As Federationists know, Charlie Brown is NFBV President. The information and statistics revealed in the article should be the occasion for shock and sorrow. The fact that they are not is indicative of the widespread problems which exist in the sheltered workshops for the blind throughout the country.

Moreover, it is not at all surprising that Virginia Industries for the Blind is accredited by NAC (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped). In view of NAC's history for the past twenty years one would be surprised if it were otherwise. How long must the blind of this nation endure the kind of conditions which are the everyday commonplace in the shops and which are blessed by NAC in the name of professionalism! It is no exaggeration to say that the term professional, which should be positive and complimentary when applied to employees of programs that are designed to give service to people, has become to the blind of this country a virtual swear word a bitter term of mockery and disillusionment. Here is Charlie Brown's article.

Some time ago Ed Peay, President of our Richmond Chapter, wrote to George Kogar, Deputy Commissioner of the Department for the Visually Handicapped, and asked him thirty questions about the Virginia Industries for the Blind facility located in Richmond. Mr. Kogar answered Ed's questions in a letter Ed received at the end of November of 1987. We think many of you will be interested in Mr. Kogar's responses to the questions.

According to Mr. Kogar's letter, there are thirty-three blind workers and two trainees employed in the workshop. All of the blind workers are employed in direct labor. All of the supervisors and management personnel are sighted. Only fifteen of the thirty-five blind workers receive the federal minimum wage. All of the sighted production workers, of course, must receive at least the federal minimum wage.

Mr. Kogar also states that The average annual earnings of a production worker is $6,676.80 per year. Remember that this figure includes the relatively higher earnings of the sighted production workers who must be paid the minimum wage. Mr. Kogar goes on to say that The average for nonproduction workers is $11,264.26. Again, remember that all of these folks are sighted. One sometimes wonders if the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped is operating a sheltered shop for the sighted rather than a sheltered shop for the blind.

There is the additional matter of layoffs. Mr. Kogar informs us that the industry has laid off blind employees on two occasions over the past three years. No sighted employees were laid off during this time period.The average duration of a layoff for a blind employee would be about eight weeks of intermittent work.

In his cover letter Mr. Kogar, to his credit, concedes, The Industry has not been managed well for a long period of time. It will be a slow process to correct all of the problems of the past. In this regard the workshop director was let go last year.

Long-time Federationists know that we have been pointing out problems in the workshop for years. Officials have promised us that things would get better. They have not.

During all of this time, anyone who picks up a VDVH brochure or sees the agency letterhead finds proudly displayed the NAC symbol. This symbol proclaims that the agency and its workshop are fully accredited. Everything was deemed to be okay. We the blind are just troublemakers. NAC, everyone was told, would assure that blind people would receive quality services. Without NAC who knows what might happen to the VDVH programs? Well, for one thing, people might have paid attention to the problems that exist in the Richmond workshop at lot sooner if VDVH had not chosen to hide behind the fictitious NAC shield. But all that is water over the dam. Yet, what are we, the blind of Virginia, to believe when in spite of everything VDVH Commissioner McCann tells us that he is wedded to NAC?

When Marc Maurer rose to address the 1989 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Denver, on the occasion of the annual Presidential Report, he was able to announce a significant victory in the struggle with the workshopsa victory that (like the bloodied effort of Premo Foianini and his fellow shopworkers in Utah) did not come without pain and sacrifice on the part of the blind employees. In short, there was good news and bad news in the dramatic account of events at the Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind in Lubbock, Texas. Fortunately the good far outweighed the bad; but the shocking nature of that bad newsits ugly note of physical violence served as a reminder that the fight to organize was still going on for blind people, and that it was still very much a fight. It had become increasingly easy to forget that harsh fact; for although it was known that problems remained in the sheltered shops, they were not thought to include gross abuse and harassment. Few could imagine that, as Glenn Crosby was to reveal, the abuse at the Lubbock workshop was not a rare or isolated occurrence but a practice so common and routine as to be considered normal operating procedure. Crosby, an NFB Board Member who was among the principal organizers of union activity in Lubbock, told the National Convention that there was at least one supervisor in the workshop who (on a regular basis when frustrated and aggravated) would walk over to blind workers and slap them. It was so common, he added, that these people didn't even realize that they were being assaulted. He went on to describe what happened when the blind workers did come to realize what was being done to them, not only physically but economically and psychologically:

The workers in Lubbock called the National Federation of the Blind, and we responded by going out to help. We formed a picket line and were able to get a lot of good press coverage. We took pledges and organized a union. We were able to win a hearing from the Labor Department and are now in the middle of filing complaints. And finally, we have now been able to run off the Director of the shop.

That straightforward summary of the Lubbock situation was amplified and placed in context by Marc Maurer in the course of his Presidential Report to the National Convention. His comments not only underlined the significance of the Texas episode but illustrated the strategic dexterity of Federation leaders in their pursuit of justice and fair play for the blind. This is what he had to say:

Approximately six thousand blind people are employed in sheltered workshops throughout the country. Very often, working conditions are poor and wages are low. Nowhere is this more dramatically demonstrated than in the Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind in Lubbock, Texas. Last September I went to Lubbock to meet with workers from the Lighthouse. I discovered that most of them were being paid two dollars and five cents an hour. A few were receiving even lesssome as little as eighty-five cents. A month earlier, the Lighthouse president had told the workers that the agency was planning to begin deducting money from their pay envelopes for their health insurance coverage. Health insurance had previously been provided by the workshop. Most of the workers barely had enough for their food and other living expenses. Nevertheless, agency officials insisted that these employees must pay for health insurance or be fired. Instead of handing over a substantial portion of their meager wages, the workers called on the Federation, and the blind took to the streets. The newspaper stories about the injustice in the workshop spread over the nation, and both television and radio carried the news of the exploitation. The Lighthouse president changed his mind. The workers would continue to receive health insurance, and the pay in their envelopes would not be cut. We won the first round.

Before the end of September, we had taken action to begin the next step. We hired a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and helped the Lighthouse workers file complaints with the United States Department of Labor. The minimum wage is three dollars and thirty-five cents an hour. Most sheltered shop workers in Lubbock are receiving two dollars and five cents. Nevertheless, they are expected to work a long day and produce results. The wages are artificially low and shamefully meager. So, we made plans to bring pressure to change them. We submitted complaints to the Department of Labor. These were the first appeals ever filed under the 1986 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act, and it will be remembered that they were filed by the National Federation of the Blind. Because of our efforts to educate members of Congress in 1985 and 1986, all blind people receiving subminimum wages have the right to challenge the fairness of their pay. The lawyer we hired once served as the Assistant Secretary of Labor. In that position he learned about the workshops and how they maneuver to violate the law.

In October of last year still another element was added to the battle. With our help, shop employees asked that they be permitted to join a labor union. The Lighthouse challenged their right to organize. By November we were preparing for a full-blown hearing before an officer of the National Labor Relations Board. This hearing was of major importance because several months earlier, a judicial decision had been issued by the eighth circuit Court of Appeals saying that blind workers at the Arkansas Lighthouse for the Blind could not join a union. The right of blind workers in sheltered workshops to organize was being eroded. After the setback in Arkansas, a highly visible public counterstroke was required. We needed to protect shop workers, and Lubbock was the place to do it. Without reviewing all the factors involved, let me just say that the National Federation of the Blind knows about blindness and the law. We are also able to get things done. On December 30, 1988, the workers voted. The question to be answered was: would the workers join a unionor not. By the most overwhelming margin ever recorded in any sheltered workshop election, the workers gave their answer. We won that round, too. There is a union at the Southwest Lighthouse for the Blind in Lubbock, Texas.

Partnership and Progress

The long campaign of the National Federation of the Blind to transform the system of sheltered workshops in America from the blind alleys of the past to modern channels of legitimate employment a campaign waged continuously through half a century was afflicted more than most with episodes of crisis, confrontation, and conflict. At virtually every step of the way, as we have seen, the forces of reform were met and countered by forces of reaction determined to retain custodial control over these sweatshop industries which were often (so it was said) as shady as they were sheltered. Progress came slowly, when it came at all; and it almost never came voluntarily, without struggle and recrimination. The sustained conflict often seemed like a nonlethal form of trench warfare, with the battle lines clearly drawn on one side the insurgent troops of the organized blind, on the other the entrenched mercenaries of the workshop system. No impartial observer looking on at the fray could fail to perceive the values at issue: They were the vested interests of the old order, the ancient regime, striving to stay alive, pitted against the democratic interests of the organized blind of a new world struggling to be born.

Nevertheless, as the first fifty years of Federationism came to a close, the portents of a better day for sheltered shop workers included growing signs of improved relations between the organized blind and numerous workshop management teams across the land. One illustration of such a cooperative relationship, based on the recognition of mutual advantage, was contained in the remarks of the president of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, Richard J. Brueckner, at the state convention of the NFB of Maryland in 1989. As the Editor of the Monitor pointed out in the February 1990 issue, these remarks gained significance in light of past difficulties with the Maryland agency:

As Monitor readers know, the Editor said, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) has not enjoyed an unruffled relationship with the organized blind. Richard Brueckner assumed the presidency of the agency at the beginning of 1989, and early on he began sending signals that he would like to establish constructive relations with the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. Invited to address the convention of the Maryland affiliate in November of 1989, Brueckner delivered a speech more encouraging than any in recent years from an official of the state agency. He said in part:

As most of you know, BISM (Blind Industries and Services of Maryland) has existed in one form or another since 1908. I did not come here today to dwell on the past, but rather to talk about the present and future of the new BISM, which started on January 1, 1989. The theme of my speech today can be summarized in two words, responsibility and accountability.

As President of BISM, I can say that we expect to meet these awesome responsibilities and are perfectly willing to be held accountable for our actions and results. Who are we at BISM accountable to? In response to that question, I list the following: 1) The Governor of the State of Maryland, 2)The Legislature of the State of Maryland, 3) The BISM Board of Trustees, who are appointed by the Governor and ratified by the Legislature, 4) All the blind people in the State of Maryland, 5) The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), 6) The employees of BISM, 7) The vendors in the Maryland Vending Program for the Blind, 8) The Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), and 9) National Industries for the Blind (NIB).

Commenting on Brueckner's speech, the Monitor said: His message was constructive and sensible. It is too soon to be certain how things will develop, but the early signs are hopeful for a positive relationship with an industries program that employs a number of blind people. 

Accordingly, as the movement of the organized blind prepared to enter its second half-century, accordingly, the saga of the sheltered workshops remained as uncertain as it was unfinished. Much had been accomplished over the decades; much was still to be done. The right to organize had been won more than a decade earlier. Minimum wage protection was still not available to blind workers in all states, but the 1986 amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act offered an appeal procedure for persons victimized by substandard wages. Union contracts were in force at sheltered workshops in Houston, Texas, and Cincinnati, Ohio; and labor representation had been selected by the workers at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Lubbock, Texas. To be sure, not all efforts to organize unions in the workshops had been fruitful; but the success rate of labor organization was increasing, as was the interest in pursuing that course on the part of shop workers throughout the country. Meanwhile, some sheltered workshops were continuing to pay less than the minimum wage to their blind laborers; but a growing number had reached that level and were providing a respectable standard of pay. Thus the many-sided struggle of the blind toward reform of the workshopsfor a living wage, for decent working conditions, for protection from abuse, for the right to organize and to bargain collectivelywas far from over. But there were hopeful signs of a new spirit which could be the harbinger of a future age of partnership and progress.

And there was something else in the air as well, in the final decade of the century, of still greater portent and promise. There was a change in the climate of opinion, a subtle but definite warming trend in the general atmosphere, which had been brought about by the combined efforts of all the organized blind through the years and decades since 1940. It was the spirit of Federationism abroad in the land the spirit of a people's movement of irresistible force, of boundless confidence, and of genuine pride. It was not likely that the walls of any sheltered shop, or even of the entire workshop system, could long prevail against this elemental force of consciousness and will which had long since found its eloquent expression in a few simple lines first spoken at a convention of the early seventies, and thereafter recited year after year by Federationists in a kind of communal chorus:

We are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens. We want no strife or confrontation; but we will do what we have to do. We know who we areand we will never go back.

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