LA County says independent mediator will try to help end social worker strike

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An independent mediator will try to end the social workers' strike, the spokesman for L.A. County's chief executive told KPCC Monday.

The county called the mediator in, and expected him to be in place and working by early afternoon Monday, said David Sommers, spokesman for County CEO Bill Fujioka. He said the mediator - who helped the two sides with talks on benefits in recent weeks - would ask Service Employees International Union Local 721 to return to the negotiating table.

Local 721 President Bob Schoonover told KPCC he was unaware that the mediator was being brought in. 

Social workers represented by Local 721 went on strike last Thursday demanding that the county hire hundreds more social workers to ease caseloads, and provide a retroactive pay raise. Sommers expressed frustration over the walkout, since he said the two sides had already agreed on a variety of issues, including pay raises and increased county contributions to workers' retirement funds and health care plans.

About 450 social workers did not show up for work at the Department of Public Social Services on Monday, said Sommers. He called the impact "minimal," since that represents about four percent of DPSS' 12,500 employees.

Roughly 1,200 were absent at the Department of Children and Family Services, "a little less than Thursday and Friday," he added.

Union officials said they would have their own numbers Monday afternoon on how many stayed away from work.

Sommers acknowledged that the strike "is a disruption," but insisted that there have not been "major impacts on wait times or on delivery of services." 

Hundreds of managers and administrators are doing the jobs of the striking workers. "It's not an ideal situation," said Sommers, "but we're getting through it." He expressed the hope that the strike would be resolved quickly and the social workers would return to work, because "we need them - they have a better understanding of their cases."

Local 721 represents 52,000 of L.A. County's 103,000 employees.

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