Regional News in Review - July 2014

Arrests made at demonstration

A demonstration in support of low-wage workers who assist Delta Air Lines’ operations at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport led to 13 arrests for blocking traffic. The protest was at a June 16 meeting of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), to focus on low employee wages, training and poor working conditions that make travel more difficult and potentially dangerous for elderly passengers and people with disabilities.

Federal law requires airlines to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities while boarding and deplaning aircraft. Airlines also must train workers how to transfer and transport passengers with disabilities safely and to handle and still the wheelchairs in a safe manner. Airserv employees at MSP are working to organize a union with Local 26 of the Service Employees International Union. Airserv pays average wages of $8 with no benefits.

“I’m embarrassed about the way we treat passengers and how long they have to wait for wheelchairs and electric carts,” said Darcy Landau, who works as a wheelchair agent serving Delta passengers. “Passengers get frustrated. It makes them feel like they’re not important. It’s discrimination, and that’s not right.”

Workers and their supporters, including several members of the disability-rights organization ADAPT, marched and wheeled themselves out of the MAC chambers, through the terminal and onto the road outside the ticketing area. Eight protesters sat down in the street, backed by three ADAPT members in wheelchairs and two more people standing behind them.

The civil disobedience follows the release of a new report, “Able, But Not Willing,” that finds passengers with disabilities face continued problems at MSP—problems workers and ADAPT members pledged to work together to solve. ADAPT leader Darrell Paulsen, who was among those arrested, recalled watching workers drop his then-pregnant wife, Nikki, while transferring her from a wheelchair to her plane seat. Paulsen urged commissioners to consider whether their mission was to “make Delta millions of dollars in profits” or to ensure safety and dignity for all travelers. “If you believe in dignity, it is time for you to take action,” he said. (Source: St. Paul Union Advocate)

 

 

Firing contested by EEOC

A distributor violated federal civil rights law by not allowing an employee to return to work after he had a heart attack, and instead firing him because of his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit.

Timothy E. Collins worked for Baldwin Supply at its Hibbing location from April 2011 to July 2011 as a laborer, installing conveyor belts. EEOC Chicago District Office Director John Rowe, who managed the agency’s pre-suit administrative investigation, said Collins had a heart attack on July 21, 2011 and was released by his doctor to return to work with no restrictions on August 8 of that year. Collins provided his doctor’s note to Baldwin Supply and contacted the company by telephone to let it know he was available to work.

“Our investigation indicated that the employer did not allow Collins to return to work, except for one or two days,” said Rowe. “Collins contacted the company’s managers on several occasions about returning to work, but the company did not contact him any further regarding returning to work. The EEOC asserts that Baldwin Supply’s reasons for not allowing Collins to work were a pretext for disability discrimination…the employer regarded him as disabled.”

Baldwin Supply’s alleged conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their actual or perceived disabilities. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief. (Source: EEOC)

 

 

Home care industry scrutinized

A recent investigation by the Star Tribune newspaper details problems of regulating the home health care industry. The article focused on the collapse of Crystal Care, one of the largest home health care companies in Minnesota, which closed in March after months of turmoil. Employees went unpaid and clients were left with limited or no care. The situation is cited as reflecting the widespread problems that shadow the home health care industry as it grows explosively nationwide.

Home health care companies now provide more than 100,000 personal care assistants in Minnesota, serving thousands of patients with varying degrees of disability. But they operate without the kind of oversight that is routinely given to licensed care facilities such as nursing homes. Workers are often low paid and poorly trained. Despite the industry’s rapid growth, most states have no minimum training requirements for personal care attendants. Minnesota requires only that they take a 25-question, multiple-choice exam that can be completed in just a few minutes.

A major problem is the industry is wracked by instability from the CEO to the hands-on care providers. Of the roughly 800 companies that employed personal care assistants in Minnesota in 2009, one-third have since closed their doors, according to a state database analyzed by the Star Tribune. State records also show that more than 100 home care companies have had more than $350,000 in unpaid-wages claims in the past five years.

“The lack of oversight is a catastrophe,” said Dr. Robert Kane, chairman of long-term care and aging at the University Minnesota’s School of Public Health. “But the catastrophe has gone largely unnoticed because it’s happening in thousands of individual, isolated homes.” (Source: Star Tribune)

 

 

Interpreter will be provided

The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities has agreed to provide an American Sign Language interpreter for deaf parents Jacob and Calena Lingle so they can fully participate in their daughter Aria’s swim classes at the Hastings facility. After negotiations failed, the family sued the YMCA this summer, alleging that its refusal to provide an adequate means for them to communicate violated state and federal laws. Jacob and Calena Lingle, 27 and 25 respectively, have been deaf since birth. Aria can hear; her first language is ASL. The family vacations in northern Minnesota and wanted Aria to be comfortable in the water so she could play with her cousins.

A day after the lawsuit was filed in Hennepin County District Court, the Lingles were told the YMCA would make an interpreter available, but only for the first of the seven-session classes. The Lingles’ attorney, Rick Macpherson, of the Minnesota Disability Law Center, said the organization had decided to provide an interpreter for all classes. While the lawsuit hasn’t been settled, Macpherson said the YMCA proposed putting the litigation on hold while it develops a new policy and resolves the other issues in the case.

The Lingles will have a role in the policy. It must be acceptable to them before they decide to settle the lawsuit. Because the suit has been filed, a judge must approve a timetable for the negotiations. (Source: Star Tribune)

 

 

Whoa to therapy horse program

Although the future of Edina’s soon-to-close Fred Richards Golf Course is still up unknown, there won’t be horses there, and the 42-acre site will have multiple uses. The Edina City Council decided in June that “The Fred” cannot be taken over by the We Can Ride program. The program offers therapeutic riding to people with disabilities.

City Manager Scott Neal said that the equine proposal was at odds with two council priorities: that something more financially sustainable than a golf course be on the site, and that it increase park access for ordinary Edina residents. City leaders have decided to close Fred Richards at season’s end.

Losing the golf course has prompted protests. City officials said the course isn’t financially sustainable and other ideas are needed. We Can Ride mounted a lobbying campaign to convert the land into an equine center. Members proposed having two indoor arenas, space for jumping and dressage competitions, and family activities like hayrides. But foes said the golf course shouldn’t be converted for a specialized, private use and not a public use. (Source: Star Tribune)