Historic disability rights victory creates hundreds of DOT jobs

From left, Local 983 leaders Tommy DiNardo, vice president, and President Joe Puleo with Michelle Green and Joseph V. Stulberg. Photo: Clarence Elie Rivera

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

In recognition of his fight for the rights of disabled New Yorkers that has led to the installation and maintenance of thousands of curb ramps throughout the city, DC 37 Local 983 recently honored Joseph V. Stulberg, a resident of Henry J. Carter long-term care facility in Harlem.

Stulberg inspired the 1994 class action lawsuit against New York City to enforce compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was settled in federal court on July 23, 2019.

“We moved to Brooklyn but whenever my son Joe left the house in his wheelchair he was landlocked. He could not leave our block. It was impossible to get his wheelchair off and on the curb,” said Michelle Green, an associate director in the union’s Research and Negotiations Dept. Her husband, attorney Robert Stulberg, led the case for his son and Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (now the United Spinal Association).

In July, a federal judge resolved the protracted case, approving a $1.55 billion settlement and a defined timeline for New York City to install, upgrade and maintain curb ramps at every one of the City’s 162,000 corners.

This major victory for disabled people makes crossing New York City’s streets possible for traveling to their homes, schools, jobs and wherever else they need to go. To implement the settlement, the Department of Transportation hired about 200 Local 983 AHRs to install, upgrade and maintain curb ramps throughout the city.

Implementation dragged on for decades. New York City’s compliance hit roadblocks under the Giuliani administration, which tried to dismiss the lawsuit, and stalled when rebuilding Lower Manhattan streets after 9/11 consumed most of DOT’s budget. In 2002 the Bloomberg administration earmarked $218 million to speed up the work but curb ramps remained to be installed and upgraded, especially in the outer boroughs like Brooklyn, where Stulberg lived.

“The Stulberg case meant so much,” Local 983 President Joe Puleo said. “Joe stood up for all New Yorkers. His fight made New York more accessible for thousands of disabled people and created hundreds of good paying union jobs. He’s made a difference, and New York City is better for everyone.”

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