County Social Workers Back On Job As Negotiations Resume

By EGP Staff Report

Social workers who walked off the job last week were back at work yesterday as contract talks were set to resume.

After a raucous day of protests highlighted by the arrests of seven people, the six-day old work stoppage by Los Angeles County social workers came to an end Tuesday.

Social workers who walked off the job last Thursday returned to work Wednesday under an arrangement worked out with the help of a mediator brought in by the county, officials said.

“… I’m hopeful that we can work through the mediator to reach a settlement with the county,” said Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721.

Four women and three men taking part in a strike rally were arrested in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday during a planned act of civil disobedience. Los Angeles police Officer Sara Faden said the seven refused to leave the area after being warned by police that the permit for the rally had expired.

Child welfare workers with the Department of Child and Family Services are asking for lower caseloads, a demand the county says it’s willing to meet.

“What is a little frustrating is that the department’s commitment is absolute,” county CEO William Fujioka told the Board of Supervisors.

About 100 social workers have already been hired and will take on full caseloads next month. Another 150 are set to go through DCFS training in January and February, and the department will ask the board  for additional hires shortly, Fujioka said.

The union wants 35 new hires every month until 595 new social workers are brought on board to be assured of a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker, according to SEIU Local 721 spokesman Lowell Goodman.

Based on the hires already in the pipeline, DCFS Director Philip Browning has estimated that the average caseload would come down to 29 by January and as low as the mid-20s by August.

Though the two sides seem to be headed in the same direction, negotiations broke down and about 4,000 DCFS social workers struck last Thursday. Union members say they want to see the county’s hiring commitments in writing.

A county spokesman said management’s unwillingness to agree to a retroactive raise was the real reason the union walked away from the bargaining table.

The union and county have tentatively agreed on a 6 percent pay boost — 2 percent in each of the three contract years — along with bonuses and a hike in county contributions to employee health care costs in 2014 and 2015.

But SEIU 721 is asking for one of the 2 percent increases to take effect two months earlier than the date of the contract. That retroactive wage hike would be unfair to other county bargaining units and a violation of county bargaining practices, county spokesman David Sommers said.

“We’ve never done it and we’re not going to start doing it now,” he said Monday, referring to retroactive raises.

But a union rep said the earlier start date was to make up for what the SEIU contends are stalling tactics by the county. SEIU leaders, meanwhile, continued to place the focus on child safety

and work conditions.

“When the strike started last week, some observers suggested that it couldn’t be really about child safety, it must be about money,” SEIU Regional Director Michael Green said. “Your employees have sacrificed hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own families’ income in order to finally stand up for the most vulnerable children in Los Angeles County.”

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December 12, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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