From the Editor: Longtime NFB of Illinois member Mary Lou Grunwald delivered the following presentation at the joint luncheon for vendors and students on October 27, 2018.
I'm so excited to be at an event like this. It's kind of a dream come true for me. I'm up here because I was asked to speak about one very specific reason why I'm in the NFB. There are many reasons why I'm involved, but this is a story many of you may not know.
For a little background, one of the early successes of the NFBI was that we, along with our national office, advocated with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to reclassify sheltered workshops as factories and not as rehabilitation institutions. As a result, the NLRB took jurisdiction over union organizing efforts at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind.
In 1976 I was in my early twenties. I wasn't able to go to college, so my first stop in my career journey was the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. At that time it was not the place that it is today. They paid subminimum wages, and they had substandard working conditions. I worked in the factory making big ones out of little ones, a shorthand for assembling chemistry sets and switchboard plugs. It was tough work for very little money, but my mom and I needed that money desperately.
I had recently gotten to know the NFB and had become involved with the Chicago chapter. Through our involvement with the NFB some of us at the Lighthouse started trying to form a union there. We worked very hard on it with the support and the guidance of the chapter and of the state and national NFB, and also the help of the Teamsters Union. Unfortunately we lost by only a couple of votes because of some ugly scare tactics that were going on.
I'm not at all sorry I did it. It was wonderful experience that prepared me for things I did later on. But when I got home, the reality set in. I had done something that I thought was very important, but now I had no job, and Mom and I had very little money. My mother was very upset with me because I had done all of this advocacy. I started trying to figure out my next career move. And while I was working on that, something started happening. I started getting envelopes in the mail. These envelopes had people's names on them, people I didn't recognize. When I opened them I found checks, checks from people, and I didn't know who the heck they were. I thought, who could this be? What is this? Then I recognized a couple of the names, and I realized that these checks came from Federationists all over the country who were supporting me! People I had never met in my life were sending me money to help support me!That experience solidified my desire to be helpful in this organization at whatever level my talents would allow. That's one of the reasons I'm in the NFB. Thank you!