Disabled CSU employees could get more options

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A bill that would grant certain accommodations for California State University system employees with disabilities still faces opposition from the Department of Finance and the CSU.

Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, D–Los Angeles, introduced Assembly Bill 529, which was first passed by the Assembly May 31, and then by the Senate Education Committee on Jun. 22, and finally by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jul. 12. The bill is awaits discussion in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“In the case of AB 529, the Senate Education Committee heard the bill because the content pertained to a higher education system,” said Dorena Knepper, director of Government Affairs at CSUN, in reference to the bill had been discussed in the different committees.

“During the hearing, however, issues relating to civil service law were raised, which committee members believed should be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thus, when the Senate Education Committee passed the bill, it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Once the Judiciary Committee had addressed the issues, it was then passed and sent on to the (Appropriations Committee).”

Law requires that the CSU Board of Trustees provide disability retirement, involuntary leave pending retirement in certain cases and temporary disability allowances to CSU employees who qualify for it.

AB 529 would give employees the option of hearings with the State Personnel Board if they feel the CSU trustees have not abided by the law.

The bill would also grant CSU employees, who have disabilities the same rights given to civil service employees under the state Civil Service Act.

Mary Ann Cummins-Prager, coordinator of Students with Disabilities Resources at CSUN, said such rights range from giving an ergonomic chair to any employee who needs one, and to allowing flexibility in a person’s work schedule because of his or her disability. Such accommodations cost less than $1,000 on average, Cummins-Prager said.

“Making them not get it would be unreasonable,” Cummins-Prager said. She added that an unreasonable accommodation would be hiring two people for one job.

“(A) company cannot pay for the employee and the aide,” she said.

Cost is a major factor in why the CSU and the Department of Finance are opposed to this bill.

“The bill carries an annual $800,000 price tag for the CSU,” Knepper said. “The State Personnel Board would also incur significant costs. Moreover, the SPB is currently backlogged with about six months worth of cases.”

Knepper said her understanding of the bill is that Goldberg introduced AB 529 to provide a timely response to employees’ disability retirement complaints.

“The SPB already handles all civil service employee complaints; adding CSU employees to the workload will only exacerbate the agency’s overtaxed workload. How would CSU employees be better served under such a process?”

Knepper said employees do have other options.

“Employees have a variety of appeal paths they can pursue,” Knepper said. “Their contract specifies an appeal process. They can also file an appeal with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the federal (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).”

Knepper said the way the issue is being handled is also a cause for concern and a reason the CSU opposes the bill.

“(Higher Education External Relations Association) provides that all benefits are determined through a collective bargaining process,” Knepper said. “Yet, every legislative session, a (negotiable) issue such as this one will appear in a bill. Either HEERA should handle all of these issues – as it was enacted to do – or the state Legislature should handle all employee issues.”

Although the system is against the bill, Knepper said she believes the CSU has done its best to work with its employees, especially those who have disabilities, and gives them the necessary accommodations they deserve.

“Federal law requires it, and the system has always had a strongly held personal commitment to accommodate not only its work force, but its disabled student population,” Knepper said. “CSUN also is particularly sensitive to accommodating students with disabilities and has numerous offices and personnel on campus to assist this population.”

However, some individuals have a different view of CSUN’s inaction regarding the bill.

“The campus did not really take a stand on this,” Cummins-Prager said.

Goldberg and her representatives could not be reached for comment regarding AB 529 and the opposition it faces from the CSU and DOF.

Even after the bill was passed three times, it would still need to make its way to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk, which could stop the bill.

“The bill actually hasn’t been passed yet by the Legislature,” Knepper said. “After that, the bill will go back to the Assembly for concurrence in the Senate’s amendments. Then it will go to the governor, who will likely veto it.”

John Barundia can be reached at jcb44123@csun.edu