By Charles Glaser, RSVA President,
In the history of the Randolph-Sheppard Program there have been many challenges to what we hold dearest. In particular, it is the priority. We are always concerned even "paranoid" whenever a new issue comes up, and we address it as rapidly as possible. We have worked diligently to fend off all of the attacks and to be honest we have been very successful. One notable exception would be the "Veterans Administration", which really needs a class action lawsuit. But that is a discussion for another time.
Recently we got wind of a contract between The United States Postal Service and a company named National Vendors to provide food service to the Postal facilities. As you can imagine, this news sent shock waves through our community equal to an 8.0 on the Richter scale. We jumped on it like ugly ape. We talked with USPS. We talked with National Vendors. We talked with RSA. We talked with the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and anyone else we could think of to find out how this contract was going to effect blind vendors.
So, what did we find out? Let's start with the government side. As virtually everyone is aware, the Post Office is downsizing. Modern technology and electronic communications have reduced the use of traditional mail (snail mail) resulting in the need for less postal workers. The reduction in the workforce has made it impractical to provide the same level of food service at postal facilities as was expected in better times.
Consequently for us, due to decreased revenues as the postal facilities downsized, the blind vendors have been forced to reduce their staff level as well. But the "job size" is still there. It takes the same amount of time to cook one can of green beans as it does to cook three. What this means is some postal facilities no longer fit the traditional Randolph-Sheppard business plan of one facility, one blind vendor with staff. Consequently, some of these facilities are becoming less attractive to blind managers and by extension some State Licensing Agencies.
The USPS has for the most part depended on State Business Enterprise Programs to provide these services and apparently does not have and can not afford to develop the infrastructure to contract with individual food service providers for the facilities that State BEP's do not want. This is where National Vendors comes into the picture. National Vendors is a vending and food service broker. They contract with national companies to provide vending and food service to many facilities through a network of private service providers.
Now let us look at how this affects blind vendors. National Vendors will be facilitating food service for the USPS. When a USPS facility becomes available, the FIRST contact they will make is to the BEP to see if we want it. We still retain the "First Right of Refusal". If the BEP turns down the opportunity, then National Vendors will find a private company to provide the service. So, as far as I can see, (bad analogy considering my visual acuity but again a topic for another discussion) the priority still applies. We keep what we already have. We are offered first right of refusal on anything that comes available. We have not lost anything and the USPS will be able to solve some of the problems they have had in having their facilities serviced.
I hope this information helps to relieve some of the "paranoia" regarding the new Post Office contract, but let's take this discussion a little further and think out of the box. We have been clamoring for postal vending routes for a long time. This may have been too narrow-minded. Long drives between post office locations and limited revenue in some cases make it impractical to have a dedicated postal vending route. But wait a minute; National Vendors is a broker for vending and food service who is always looking for good dependable service providers. What are we? Good dependable vending and food service providers. Could this be a relationship? In my conversations with the various parties, vending routes and more are definitely a possibility.
So is our "paranoia" justified? Of course it is. There may be a happy ending to this story but that may not always be the case. We, at RSVA, along with our R-S friends will continue to do everything in our power to preserve and protect the Randolph-Sheppard Program, which we consider the most successful disability employment vehicle ever created.
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