Stories from the field: Employment of People With Disabilities

During SEIUs 2008 Convention, our union members passed a resolution committing the resources and leadership of the union to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities in good union jobs with benefits. The following is an example shared by SEIU Local 721 member David Mulvey about how SEIU Local 1021 in California has worked to implement this resolution and part of an upcoming series of blog posts on this topic.

Derrick is a young man with autism, a developmental disability, who worked at a local hospital though his high school ROP program. Upon graduation he continued to volunteer at the hospital, but there was not an opportunity to become a paid employee. He then applied for and was accepted into Children’s Hospital Oakland’s Project SEARCH program operated by East Bay Innovations.

Derrick, an adult with autism, Project Search graduate and proud union member.

Derrick, an adult with autism, Project Search graduate and proud union member.


Derrick did well in his Project SEARCH internship assignments, but continued to talk to his job coaches about his desire to return to work at his old hospital. East Bay Innovations and Derrick’s former ROP teacher contacted Derrick’s former manager at the hospital Pete Laidlaw, (Mailroom supervisor), and Peter stated he would love to have Derrick work there again but that hospital staff were unionized and there was no job classification whose requirements Derek could meet.

Having earlier built a relationship with SEIU Local 1021 (the local that represented their staff) and knowing about the resolution. They contacted Don Evans, worksite organizer for Local 1021. Don in turn put them in touch with Bernie DeArman, worksite organizer for the hospital from SEIU UHW. EBI staff shared Derrick’s story and a copy of the resolution with Bernie who agreed to meet with the union leadership at the hospital and hospital management. Bernie was able to craft an agreement that created a new special job slot set aside for a worker with a developmental disability.

The hospital had made a commitment that this position would not replace any existing workers. And the union agreed to exempt this position from normal seniority layoff rules. Derek is now a proud union member. He earns $14.50/hr has vacation and health care benefits at his dream job at the local hospital. He has lots of friends there. His fellow employees agree he does a great job and makes his hospital a much better place to work.

There is much more work to do to create not only jobs, but jobs with good wages benefits and advancement opportunities for people with disabilities. We will continue to share our successes here on the blog. If you would like to connect with an SEIU local about how to expand employment opportunities, please contact us here through the website.


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