LA County, social workers reach a tentative deal to end labor unrest

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Two days of what's being called "intensive bargaining" have led to a tentative deal between Los Angeles County and social workers from the Department of Children and Family Services, the union representing the employees announced Friday afternoon.

Talks on a new contract broke down on Dec. 4 as negotiators with the Service Employees International Union, Local 721 declared an impasse. The next day, the social workers went on strike, seeking a retroactive raise and reduced caseloads.

County officials initially balked at adding specific language to the contract requiring DCFS to hire more employees.

The social workers returned to the bargaining table on Tuesday. Under the tentative deal, the union says the county will hire an additional 450 social workers by next October. County officials have already said they have several hundred new workers ready to start in the next few months.

Union members have to approve the contract before it becomes official.

"It wasn't easy, but we made history," said Chychy Ekeochah, a social worker and part of the bargaining Team, in a statement. "Because we put it on the line, the County accepted our proposals to protect children. That's a big victory for us and the children we serve."

DCFS Director Philip L. Browning issued the following statement:

"I am delighted that the work action has ended and that all social workers are back on the job.  DCFS has an aggressive plan to hire new workers over the next year and 100 new workers are already in the new 52-week Academy training.  I expect a new academy to begin almost every month for between 35 -50 new workers, and that by this time next year, the average caseload for continuing service social workers should be in the mid to low 20s."

"The new web-based policy manual, being implemented next month, is expected to have 25-percent fewer policies, will be much easier to access and understood by workers.  Additional smart phones and computer tablets being provided should help workers be more efficient and allow more time to be spent with children and families."

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