During a raucous rally of striking social workers on Friday, Los Angeles County child-welfare chief Philip Browning made a surprise appearance before the crowd and urged them to return to work.
"I support social workers, but I want you to come back to work," he said, prompting sustained boos from the crowd of several hundred county employees rallying in front of the headquarters of the county Department of Children and Family Services. "We need you."
Friday marked the second day of a strike by county social workers, with similar numbers participating as the previous day. They protested at work sites throughout the county before heading to the late-morning rally, where they were addressed by elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles) and Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park). They danced, clanged purple cowbells in the air and waved picket signs that said "Child Safety Now!"
Speaker after speaker railed against county leaders for failing to help overburdened social workers, or punishing them when things went wrong. The real culprit, they said, was a refusal by county officials to see how the caseloads were harming children.
"You can run, but you can't hide," shouted SEIU regional director Michael Green, pointing toward the agency headquarters. "Damn you if you can't handle the damn truth!"
The union sent two leaders to the building to deliver to Browning an SEIU poster that showed a woman's hand holding a child's hand, and said "I Support Child Safety." They were turned away, to the disappointment of the crowd, and then Browning appeared.
In a brief interview, Browning said that he also believed that caseloads were too high and outlined steps county officials were taking to reduce them, notably the hiring of 300 to 400 new social workers, which would result in caseloads being 30% lower within a year.
"I'm confident we're on our way. I know the board and the CEO want this strike to be over and everyone to come back to work," he said. When asked about the union's proposal to hire 35 new workers per month for 17 months, Browning demurred, saying it was a budgetary issue, before slipping inside the building.