Los Angeles County social workers will return to work and resume contract negotiations Wednesday after a six-day strike, union officials announced Tuesday evening.
The child-welfare workers went on strike over a contract dispute about how to handle heavy caseloads. All of the 55,000 workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 721, including the social workers, have been working without a contract for two months.
SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover credited a massive rally staged by social workers and supporters Tuesday outside the Hall of Administration with bringing county officials back to the table.
“When they saw the incredible solidarity of our members on the street, the [Board of] Supervisors knew they had to act,” he said in a statement.
County spokesman David Sommers said a mediator brought in by management had been working since Monday to get the union back to the table.
“We’re very pleased that SEIU is coming back to the table and we’re hopeful this action will result in a settlement,” he said.
The county and SEIU have reached an agreement on raises, the county’s contribution to health premiums and the majority of other contract issues. Social workers’ caseloads are the main remaining sticking point, with the union asking the county to commit to hiring 35 more social workers a month for the next 17 months.
County officials said they were committed to bringing caseloads down, both through new hires and technological improvements, but have balked at agreeing to a specific number. County Chief Executive William T Fujioka said he wanted to form a joint labor and management committee to review the caseload issue.
Social workers and supporters rallied outside of the Hall of Administration during the Board of Supervisors’ weekly meeting Tuesday. SEIU spokesman Lowell Goodman said an estimated 2,000 people took part.
A smaller contingent of protesters went in to speak to the board.
“Your employees have sacrificed hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of their own families’ incomes in order to stand up for the most vulnerable children in Los Angeles County,” SEIU Local 721 regional director Michael Green told the supervisors.
After the meeting, protesters marched in the street around the downtown building, with a Los Angeles Police Department escort. As the march reached Temple and Hill streets, a small group of protesters sat down in the middle of the intersection and remained seated after LAPD officers ordered them to move to the sidewalk.
Four women and three men were arrested on charges of failing to disperse, an LAPD spokesman said. Goodman said three of them were children’s social workers and the others were SEIU employees. The rest of the marchers dispersed without incident.