Regional News in Review – December 2009

Settlement given to deaf worker  An apprentice sheet metal worker from St. Paul will get $48,500 to settle a complaint […]

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Settlement given to deaf worker

 An apprentice sheet metal worker from St. Paul will get $48,500 to settle a complaint that union leaders repeatedly refused to give him field assignments because he is deaf. Michael Sherman, who logged more than 4,400 hours as an apprentice, was unfairly discriminated against by officials with the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union Local 10 and an affiliated Joint Training and Apprenticeship Committee, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

 “The department’s investigation found that stereotypes about deafness had led to a feeling among local industry professionals that deaf persons should not work in the field,’’ the department announced last month. State investigators concluded that union officials failed to identify the kinds of work Sherman could have performed in the field and did not take steps to help him communicate with other workers, such as providing a pager that would vibrate instead of issuing a warning beep. Investigators also discovered that another deaf apprentice working outside the metro area was allowed to work in the field and perform tasks, such as welding, that don’t require oral communication.

Union officials agreed to pay the money without admitting to any wrongdoing. Sherman declined to comment. He had started his apprenticeship in May 2005.

After Sherman became an apprentice in May 2005, officials had expressed concerns for his safety due to his disability. After completing temporary shop assignments, Sherman discovered that he’d been repeatedly passed over for jobs. Union officials told him that he would not be given assignments in the field because of his disability.

In making its decision, the state pointed out that the union did not consult with experts who specialize in accommodations for deaf workers. The settlement also requires the union to hold training for managers and supervisors on the Minnesota Human Rights Act and to reexamine its policies about accommodating people who have disabilities.

Marty Strub, the union president, said the union has other deaf members, but none of them has expressed dissatisfaction with working conditions. The union has between 4,500 and 5,000 members across Minnesota, South and North Dakota and part of Wisconsin.

As part of the settlement, Sherman agreed to resign from the union and never seek sheet metal work with any companies under contract with Local 10. [Source: Star Tribune]


Twice the Gift has new management

Partnership Resources, Inc. (PRI), a non-profit agency serving adults with developmental disabilities, has taken over the ownership and management of the retail operation and web site development of Twice the Gift. The change was announced by the Pohlad Family Foundation.

Twice the Gift is a seasonal retail shop in the IDS Center Crystal Court, 80 S. 8th St. It is open through the December holiday season, Mon-Sat 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sun noon-5 p.m. It showcases the products and services provided by more than 60 Twin Cities nonprofit organizations, including many organizations that serve people with disabilities. At Twice the Gift, shoppers can select a meaningful gift for loved ones and/or business associates that will benefit others in the community.

The shop is underwritten by the Pohlad Family Foundation with 100% of the proceeds benefiting participating nonprofit organizations providing the gift or service. [Source: Pohlad Family Foundation]


Restructured transit service to start 

New fares for dial-a-ride services throughout the Twin Cities region will go into effect on Jan. 1. That’s when the phase-in of restructured, region-wide Transit Link service throughout the seven-county metropolitan area will begin. The Metropolitan Council approved the fares in November. The fare structure is the final standard operating guideline for the new region-wide dial-a-ride service. Dial-a-ride service is minibus or van service for members of the general public. It is different from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-certified services provided by Metro Mobility, which serves riders who need additional assistance due to physical, cognitive or psychological limitations. These dial-a-ride changes do not affect ADA transit service.

New fares are based on the distance traveled. For trips less than 10 miles, passengers will pay $2.25 each way. For trips between 10 and 20 miles, the fare will be $4.50 each way. And for trips greater than 20 miles, riders will pay $6.75 each way. Transfers are free, and discounts are available for group trips. ADA-certified riders pay a maximum of $4.50 per direction, regardless of distance.

 The restructuring effort, which began in 2008, aimed to deliver dial-a-ride transit services that are equally available to all members of the general public throughout the seven-county metropolitan area where regular route transit service is not available. Dial-a-ride services are intended to supplement regular routes, rather than duplicate them.

In addition, the effort will establish a consistent set of operating parameters—such as a single phone number for reservations, consistent hours of operation and a uniform window for advanced trip reservations—for all providers throughout the region.

“We’ve had a patchwork quilt of dial-a-ride service throughout the region without defined criteria for which communities could have service,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell. “The new Transit Link service reduces the number of providers and standardizes how service is provided.”

More than 450,000 riders used dial-a-ride services in the seven-county metro area during 2008.

The transition between current dial-a-ride providers and the switch to new Transit Link services will occur throughout the metro area over the first five months of 2010. New guidelines and fares will take effect in Anoka, Carver and Scott counties on Jan. 1. These three areas currently operate their own transit services and will continue to operate dial-a-ride services under the new structure. In addition, four metro-area counties – Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington – have chosen the Metro Council to operate dial-a-ride services in their area. As contracts for service in these areas come up for renewal, vendors chosen will operate under the Transit Link parameters and fare structure. New contracts for these communities will be in place on the following timeline:

Feb. 1: Hennepin County; March 1: Ramsey and Washington counties; May 1: Dakota County

In November Metropolitan Council approved a five-year contract for Transit Link service in Hennepin County to Midwest Paratransit Services Inc. The new contract will take effect on Feb. 1, in conjunction with the restructuring of dial-a-ride services region-wide. It is the first contract awarded for the new Transit Link service. Midwest Paratransit currently provides dial-a-ride service for 26 communities in Hennepin County. [Source: Metropolitan Council]


UCare expands into two more counties

UCare’s Minnesota Senior Health Options (MSHO) program is expanding to Chippewa and Otter Tail counties in western Minnesota. UCare’s MSHO is a voluntary, no-cost health care program for seniors age 65 and older who are enrolled in Medical Assistance, and Medicare Parts A and B.

UCare ( is an independent, nonprofit health plan providing health care and administrative services to more than 180,000 members UCare’s MSHO enrollees are assigned a care coordinator who helps them get their heath care and related support services. The program integrates Medicaid and Medicare benefits into one package for older Minnesotans. The program also offers Part D prescription drug coverage, free membership and no monthly dues at the YMCA, a Strong & Stable Kit to improve balance, and dental benefits.

“We are excited to expand UCare’s MSHO coverage to more Minnesotans in Chippewa and Otter Tail counties,” said Nancy Feldman, UCare’s President and CEO. “Since we began offering MSHO more than ten years ago, we have seen how this innovative program improves the health of low-income seniors with complex medical needs. The one-on-one assistance of a care coordinator and the strong set of benefits help our MSHO members continue to live independently.”

UCare contracts with the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) to offer the MSHO program. It currently serves approximately 9,300 Minnesotans in 55 counties across Minnesota. DHS contracts with nine health maintenance organizations to offer MSHO in the state; currently, there are approximately 37,000 MSHO members in 83 of 87 Minnesota counties.

UCare’s MSHO is currently available in Aitkin, Anoka, Benton, Blue Earth, Carlton, Carver, Cass, Chisago, Cottonwood, Crow Wing, Dakota, Dodge, Faribault, Fillmore, Hennepin, Houston, Isanti, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Kittson, Lac Qui Parle, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Marshall, Martin, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Mower, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Norman, Olmsted, Pennington, Pine, Polk, Ramsey, Red Lake, Redwood, Rice, Rock, Roseau, St. Louis, Sherburne, Stearns, Swift, Todd, Wabasha, Wadena, Washington, Watonwan, Winona, Wright, and Yellow Medicine counties [Source: UCare]


Disabled vet sues McDonald’s for $10 million

A disabled veteran who inspired Sen. Al Franken’s first legislative victory—a service dog program for disabled veterans—is suing McDonald’s for $10 million after allegedly being harassed, beaten, and told that he couldn’t take his service dog inside a fast food restaurant in New York City. Luis Carlos Montalvan, a former Army captain who was wounded in Iraq, said he was confronted by restaurant workers on two separate visits, and beaten with garbage can lids on a third when he returned with a camera in hand. Franken, in an e-mail message to Montalvan last week, called it an “awful, bizarre story.”

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA said the matter is under investigation and that the company could not comment further, other than to say that McDonald’s takes pride in making its restaurants accessible to all customers, “including those with service animals.”

Montalvan, 36, of Brooklyn, filed suit Oct. 28, a week after Congress approved Franken’s provision establishing a pilot program to pair 200 wounded veterans with service dogs from nonprofit agencies. In championing the legislation, Franken cited Montalvan and his service dog, Tuesday, whom he had met in a chance encounter at a presidential inaugural ball in Washington.

Franken said that the incident underscores the problems of returning veterans. “Captain Montalvan made great sacrifices fighting for our country in Iraq,” Franken said. “I’m not entirely familiar with the facts of this case, but what I do know underscores both the need to help our returning veterans and to raise awareness and increase access for service dogs.” Montalvan served two tours of duty in Iraq, suffering wounds in a knife and hand grenade attack that left him with spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Tuesday, his service dog, is a golden retriever who helps him with balance, mobility and emotional support.

Montalvan’s suit alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act in a series of events that began last December, several weeks after he completed service dog training. Visiting a McDonald’s in Brooklyn, Montalvan said several employees told him “pets” were not allowed. Even after he pointed to the dog’s red service vest, he said various McDonald’s employees, including a manager, continued to “glare” at him, inducing a panic attack. He complained and was told measures would be taken to address the service dog issues. But he returned in January to be told by another manager that no dogs were allowed. The manager reportedly left after Montalvan directed him to read the sign. Montalvan returned with a camera two days later to find the restaurant closed because of health code violations. He says that when he tried to take pictures, two unidentified McDonald’s workers confronted him and beat him with plastic garbage can lids. [Source: Star Tribune]


Partnership to provide training

 Chad Creager trained 45-year-old Marc Moorvitch how to safely use a Tennant auto scrubber for cleaning floors. “He’s a fast learner,” said the manager of employment services at Opportunity Partners, a Minnetonka-based nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities live, learn and work as independently as possible.

In the past, Moorvitch’s training with the industrial machine wouldn’t have gained him a formal job certification. But in a collaboration between Opportunity Partners and Dunwoody College of Technology, participants like Moorvitch will be trained using Dunwoody curricula and gain certification for jobs at the same time, while ensuring that their skills training meets the specific needs of employers and industry standards.

Mike Anderson, director of custom training at Dunwoody, said the partnership works because Opportunity Partners and Dunwoody are “two similar organizations that improve life for individuals.” Opportunity Partners would like to enroll 75 students in the program, which will begin next spring. Staff is to be trained by early 2010.

 Julie McConaha, assistant director of learning and development at Opportunity Partners, said that between last February and May, staff at Opportunity Partners and Dunwoody determined that participant training must focus on skills the workers need to meet employer requirements. That will give participants a better chance of being placed in a job.

Opportunity Partners projects it needs to raise a minimum of $200,000 per year for the next three years for the program.

 The curriculum will include four “learning platforms” where training incrementally tackles more difficult skills. Individuals will have the opportunity to learn each track within a platform, which will work like chapters in a book. With each task in a track, a checklist of required steps is taught to the student. The courses don’t include lectures or homework. Lessons will focus on applied learning, Anderson said. [Source: Star Tribune]

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