Disabled, Not Discounted

December 18, 2019

1199’s People With Disabilities Caucus works to raise disability awareness and provide more access to resources.

Disabled_fa.jpgAs the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) approaches, 1199ers have formed a new caucus to advocate for disabled workers, make stronger connections with the disability community, and speak out against abuse and marginalization of disabled workers.

While 1199 contracts protect all members equally, disabled people in the broader workforce still face a widening pay gap and 26% fewer responses to job applications than workers without a disability. Women with disabilities face even greater hurdles: They’re half as likely as men to work full time, and when they do, they make 83% of what men make. So, on a recent rainy Thursday evening in New York City, members of 1199’s Caucus for People With Disabilities gathered around a table at the Union’s headquarters to discuss their mission, strategize about raising disability awareness, and plan events for the coming months.

“1199 has been at the forefront of justice for everyone, and this new caucus will help us as a union dive more deeply into the fight for disabled people,” says Caucus President Maurice DePalo, a pharmacist at Montefiore Westchester Square Hospital. “Our organization does so much, but this can be an area of real strength for workers and the Union. In many ways, this is a new front in the fight for social justice.”

Reflecting 1199’s core value of solidarity, the caucus includes disabled and non-disabled members and is dedicated to dispelling myths and misinformation about the disabled and disability rights, said 1199 Organizer Keith Johnson. Johnson is also the caucus’s liaison to the International’s Call for People With Disabilities, a monthly gathering of voices from the labor movement and disability community.

“We encounter people with disabilities every day. We may not know it, because not every kind of disability is visible or physical,” he says. “Non-disabled people often don’t know what to do or how to deal with disabilities. This caucus was formed to help with that. We want disabled people to be visible and have access to the resources they need.”

Iffat Mahmud-Kahn, a patient at Montefiore Marble Hill in the Bronx, was encouraged to attend the meeting by caucus member Priscilla Kornegay, a referral coordinator at Montefiore Marble Hill. Mahmud-Kahn has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. She also receives home health services for several hours a day.

“I have been doing disability advocacy work since high school. In college I helped get our ATM made accessible.

It’s hard because [as a disabled person] you already feel so challenged, and people often don’t feel comfortable saying what they need,” says Mahmud-Kahn. “I hope this caucus will encourage caregivers to become advocates for their disabled patients and help get systems in place that can benefit the disabled community.”

Kornegay, an 1199 delegate, says she was mobilized around disability rights after advocating for a disabled co-worker.

“We are all brothers and sisters and we have to hold each other up,” says Kornegay. “If we don’t lead by example, who will?”

One of Kornegay’s main objectives is to help increase workplace representation among disabled people.

“It only reflects positively on our employers to hire and promote disabled people,” says Kornegay. “It shows the importance of being open to a diverse workforce and that they are taking the disability community seriously and treating disabled people with respect.”

For more information about 1199’s Caucus Program, go to www.1199seiu.org/caucuses.

1199 Magazine | November - December 2019