Disability Rights Activists Get Unions’ Attention

ADAPT, the national disability rights group, blocked access to the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, AFSCME (right), and SEIU May 14 to demand meetings with union leaders. ADAPT is seeking union support for a Senate bill (S. 1298) that would reform Medicaid to give people a choice of long-term care in their homes and communities rather than in institutions.

ADAPT said it acted “after years of tension between the disability rights community and the nation’s unions.” Both AFSCME and SEIU (public employees and Service Employees, respectively) represent nursing home workers. Linda Anthony, an ADAPT organizer from Pennsylvania, said that unions “have been a significant part of the problem, not wanting institutions to close because their members faced job loss.” That position clashes with many disabled individuals’ strong desire to stay out of nursing homes.

The bill, dubbed MiCASSA, would allow people eligible for nursing home care under Medicaid to choose instead to receive care from personal attendants in their own homes.

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Unions leaders quickly agreed to schedule meetings with ADAPT. AFL-CIO Legislative Director William Samuel assured activists that the federation “supports the effort to move care for people with disabilities into the communities where they live and work, allowing them to retain their independence while getting care and services in the most appropriate setting.”

ADAPT National Organizer Bob Kafka said that ADAPT “shares the unions’ goal of a living wage for the workers who assist us. That only increases the chances we will get better care from more qualified assistants… What we will not accept, though, is holding people with disabilities hostage in nursing homes and institutions to protect jobs for unionized employees.”