New Threats as Americans with Disabilities Act Marks 25th Anniversary

Twenty-five years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law safeguarding the civil rights of persons with disabilities. This landmark legislation clearly and comprehensively mandated the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

Fully committed to those principles, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) has continually worked to ensure that those with disabilities have safe and reliable transportation to work, school, medical appointments, houses of worship, and many other places, as well.

Marking the 25th anniversary of the ADA, ATU salutes the hard work, dedication and commitment of our paratransit operators and mechanics who strive to make sure that all citizens have the opportunity to fully participate in the life of their communities.

Unfortunately, the full participation of persons with disabilities in community life is being threatened by the outsourcing of paratransit systems to private, often multinational, discount operators who claim that they can deliver the service for less than it costs cities and states. And, many cash-strapped municipalities are turning to these foreign transit contractors, hoping to save money.

Sounds good, right? But, when private corporations take over public services, the public good becomes a secondary consideration. That's not hard to understand.

The goal of good government is to provide the best possible service to citizens regardless of race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability.

The goal of private enterprise is to generate the greatest possible profit for businesses at any cost. Private paratransit operators maximize profit by reducing service, vehicle maintenance, and labor costs as much as possible. By cutting corners and creating a high-turnover, impoverished workforce, irresponsible private transit contractors compromise safety and often leave riders with disabilities waiting at the curb.

In the case of paratransit, governments pay scarce taxpayer dollars to multinational corporations that send their profits overseas. That's money that could have been used to improve service, buy new equipment, or pay living wages to employees who would in turn use that money to make purchases and pay taxes in their local communities.

These paratransit parasites are turning the clock back to an era when persons with disabilities were nonchalantly treated like second-class citizens and forced to rely on unreliable, substandard, and often dangerous transportation. Furthermore, these abusive multinational private contractors have even attempted to pressure U.S. transit workers with disabilities to forfeit their right to seek legal relief under the ADA.

Meanwhile, politicians are celebrating the arrival of privately-operated, unregulated transit providers like Uber as an alternate form of transportation for all. However, Uber is attempting to circumvent the ADA by pressuring city governments, including in our nation's capital, to exempt the company from having to report how many wheelchair-accessible ride requests it receives and denies.

America's transit workers represented by the ATU remain committed to the principles of the ADA and the struggle for disability justice. We will continue fighting alongside our allies against the outsourcing of paratransit to private companies, where profits come before riders and workers, and to ensure that public transit affords all people equal mobility regardless of their disabilities, race, color or gender.