LA County social workers likely to strike Thursday

Social workers with the Department of Children and Family Services rally outside an L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting to demand lower caseloads.
Social workers with the Department of Children and Family Services rally outside an L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting to demand lower caseloads. Rina Palta/KPCC

Negotiations have temporarily broken down between county executives and the union representing Los Angeles County child welfare workers. On Wednesday afternoon, negotiators with the SEIU 721 declared an impasse.

The Department of Children and Family Services said Wednesday evening they had been informed a work action was likely and were making contingency plans. Union representatives confirmed social workers in the department are planning to strike. 

"We're still hoping some agreement can be made," said DCFS Spokesman Armand Montiel.  Nevertheless, about 400 managers in the department have been asked to report to regional offices to handle any cases that come in. Additional managers can be deployed to work the hotlines and emergency intake centers for children as needed, Montiel said. 

Negotiators disagreed over what sparked the breakdown in talks. 

"County management is aware of the potential for targeted, isolated work actions in response to these latest developments," said David Sommers, a spokesman for the County CEO's Office in an email. "Employees are legally entitled to engage in work actions, but they are not entitled to pay during their participation."

Sommers said the stall resulted from a disagreement over a schedule for increasing salaries. The county has agreed to a 6 percent raise for workers represented by the Service Employees International Union. County executives proposed that the raise come in three increments--a 2 percent raise effective upon agreement, an additional 2 percent effective October 2014, and a third 2 percent raise effective March 2015. 

"This is the same timeline that has been agreed upon by every other County labor group," Sommers said. But, he said, the SEIU has asked for the final raise two months earlier, something the county says would be unfair to other workers. 

Since any workers who strike would not be paid, Sommers said anyone who participates would actually lose more money than they'd make getting a raise a couple months early.

SEIU officials, however, counter that the county originally promised the raise earlier and then backed out. Lowell Goodman, a spokesman for the SEIU 721, says that's not the reason social workers are threatening to strike, however.

Social workers "are striking because the Board of Supervisors and DCFS refuse to put in their labor contract firm, binding commitments to decrease social workers’ shameful caseload numbers, which greatly exceed acceptable industry standards," union representatives said in a statement. 

DCFS workers have complained for months about understaffing and high caseloads, and have asked the county to promise it'll hire 35 new social workers each month.

The county says it's already hired hundreds of new social workers. 

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