LEGISLATURE: Cheryl Brown bill would protect state workers - Brian W. Jones

LEGISLATURE: Cheryl Brown bill would protect state workers

SACRAMENTO – An Inland lawmaker’s bill that would give greater job-security protections to state workers who have been fired or otherwise punished for missing work without permission is moving through...

the Legislature.

The bill by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-Rialto, would reinstate employees who were AWOL for five consecutive days if they can produce a note from their licensed healthcare providers.

“There are some state employees who have been terminated due to no fault of their own,” Brown said. “Employees have been sick and may not have given notice of their absence. In some of these cases they were terminated. And once terminated, it can be very difficult for them to get their jobs back.”

Only one Republican has voted for Brown’s bill, which critics call a union-backed attempt to protect state employees who don’t show up.

Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, mocked the legislation in a recent episode of “Are You Kidding Me?” -- a series of videos on state issues he opposes.

“This is not the type of behavior the state should promote and reward,” said Jones, whose district includes part of Riverside County. “In the private sector, someone who routinely doesn’t show up for work, should be and would be fired.”

Combined, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties have more than 40,000 state workers. Brown’s district covers San Bernardino County’s urban core, and she said she hopes the bill would help alleviate the area’s high rates of unemployment.

Brown’s measure is sponsored by the largest state employee union, Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents 95,000 state workers. Union leaders cast the legislation as a way to clean up the AWOL appeals process.

“The state must continue to look for ways to maximize taxpayers’ money by reducing inefficient and costly processes. AB 855 ensures this by streamlining and consolidating the state’s AWOL appeals process,” Yvonne Walker, SEIU Local 1000 president, said in a statement.

As it is, state departments can fire any employee who has been AWOL for five consecutive days, although Brown said managers will sometimes use the AWOL statute even before the employee has missed five days to get rid of “difficult” employees.

The employee can appeal to the Department of Human Resources, where their case will be heard by an administrative law judge.

But according to Brown’s office, hearings rarely result in an overturning of the AWOL decision, even if it is used improperly, as was the case for state employee MeShan Rachal.

Rachal, a union activist who works for the Employment Development Department in Sacramento, was considered AWOL for attending a union convention. She said she had given her manager notice three months in advance and also reported her absence on the day of the convention.

“This bill will put in place a regimen and protocol for managers to be held responsible, as well as a means to avoid lengthy appeals processes,” Rachal said.

Brown stressed that the bill would not keep a department from firing employees who should be fired. “Not showing up for work is a big problem, but people should have a way to redeem themselves,” she said.

The measure passed the Assembly in May and its first Senate committee in June. Brown’s office said the bill likely will be heard on the Senate floor in the coming days.

The Press-Enterprise