Another View

Special interest groups seek jobs of employees with disabilities

By: Kevin Kiley
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Three years ago, a Stockton health facility managed by the California Department of Corrections was in danger of shutting down. Inspectors had discovered systemic and unacceptable standards of cleanliness, putting into question the facility’s ability to deliver medical and psychiatric treatment to more than 1,700 inmates. Desperate for a turnaround, management reached out to PRIDE Industries, a Roseville-based nonprofit that specializes in workplace training and job placements for people with mental or physical disabilities. PRIDE employees quickly brought the facility up to code, earning a 98.87 percent audit score  — and at $3.6 million under cost.

This partnership with PRIDE is an all too rare example of effective governance: A problem was solved by providing opportunity to our most disadvantaged citizens while creating value for taxpayers. Yet now, there is an effort afoot to put an end to it. One of the state’s most powerful special interests, SEIU, has launched a campaign to dismiss the 121 employees with disabilities and replace them with the union’s own dues-paying members.

That there should even be serious discussion about firing high-performing employees — in particular, employees with disabilities who work hard to serve our state — illustrates everything wrong with decision-making in Sacramento. After all, no one questions the employees’ aptitude. At issue is that they are not SEIU members — meaning SEIU doesn’t receive dues from them, as it would if the PRIDE employees were replaced with its own members. 

If the Legislature succumbs to SEIU’s demands, it will be a huge loss for California, and for the tremendous PRIDE employees. As one employee testified at a recent committee hearing, “For a long time I felt like I was worthless and completely useless. I didn’t even want to live. (… ) . Without this job, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to stand here today and advocate on behalf of my fellow PRIDE family.”

The good news is that it’s not too late to save these jobs for the PRIDE workers. Though they lack the political heft of SEIU, their record has attracted the attention of a bipartisan coalition of legislators, myself included, who are championing their cause. It is too often the case in Sacramento that special interests dictate policy outcomes. We must not let that happen here.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley represents the 6th Assembly District, which includes parts of El Dorado, Placer, and Sacramento counties. On Saturday, June 16th he will be hosting a community coffee at the Sun City Lincoln Hills Sports Pavilion (1050 Del Webb Blvd., Lincoln).