A friend whose son has autism sent me this absolutely horrific tale of abuse and neglect by New York State workers who are supposed to care for the cognitively disabled. These are unionized workers who are, like most of New York's civil service, very hard to fire. Naturally, the union fought as hard for them as it could. And so rather than fire them, many of their supervisors simply transferred them to other homes, even though offenses included punching their charges, throwing them against the wall, and sexually abusing them. The man who was caught standing between the legs of his disabled charge with his pants down and her diaper off describes himself as just waiting until he can collect his state pension.
I say "naturally" the union defended them, and that could sound perjorative. But in fact, I don't think that the union believes it's okay to sexually abuse the vulnerable people you care for. I imagine the union leadership is appalled by many-to-all of these cases, and if the union members could vote, they would probably vote to expel the sort of people who routinely abuse and neglect their charges. But as I blogged last week
in the context of the teachers' unions, the unions don't have any choice. The way things are set up now, unions effectively have a legal duty to represent their members as zealously as possible.
Is there a fix for this? Well, in this case, there's at least a partial fix, which is that the administrators who run things can do the hard work of firing people who commit these sorts of vile crimes. The union doesn't have a choice, but the supervisors do. They don't have to pass the bad apples along; they can do the hard work of building a case, and firing these guys.
But it's hard to find good people to work with developmentally disabled adults, and the disabled themselves have little voice. It's all too easy for agencies to turn a blind eye rather than getting into a nasty fight that will be embarrassing for everyone.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down