Union sues L.A. County over social worker staffing

<i>This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.</i>

The union representing Los Angeles County social workers filed a lawsuit Tuesday to force the county to reduce case loads.

Service Employees International Union Local 721 -- which represents about 55,000 county employees -- alleged in the suit that the county had ignored a directive issued by an arbitrator last year to reduce the social worker-to-child ratios in the Compton office of the county child welfare department.

Under their contract, the social workers are supposed to monitor no more than 30 children at a time, but SEIU said they often handle two or three times that number.


The union wants the county to hire 1,400 more social workers over the next three and a half years.

An-Hoa Tran, a social worker in the Compton office, said she and her coworkers are being “set up to fail” by the caseloads they handle.

“We need time to build trusting relationships with children,” she said.

Relations between SEIU and county managers are already strained. The union walked away from contract negotiations last week, accusing the county of being unresponsive. Union members are now voting on whether to allow their leaders to call a strike if necessary.

Wages and employee healthcare premiums have been major sticking points, but the union also brought up social worker caseloads in the negotiations.

David Sommers, a spokesman for county Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka, said he had not seen the union’s lawsuit. He said the county is willing to bring in an independent mediator to help resolve the bargaining issues.

“Our position remains that it’s at the bargaining table that we’re going to have an opportunity to resolve this, not through any other means,” he said. “We’re continuing to bargain in good faith.”

Sommers said 250 new social workers are in various stages of training now.

On Monday, SEIU also filed eight unfair labor practice charges with the county’s employee relations commission, SEIU Local 721 general counsel Rebecca Yee said.

The allegations include bad faith bargaining and retaliation against union members. But there is no commission to review them because the three appointed members quit in protest in September, citing concerns about a new contract for hearing officers. And those commissioners have not yet been replaced.

SEIU officials said a stack of more than 500 grievances and unfair labor practice charges have piled up without a commission to review them -- including a charge that the county interfered with labor relations by imposing the new rules that prompted the commissioners to quit.

[For the Record, 11:05 a.m. PDT Nov. 6: A previous version of this post misspelled Rebecca Yee’s name].


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