December 05, 2013
City News Service
While at least 23 of 28 union bargaining units have reached a settlement with county negotiators, social workers recently demanded lower caseloads as part of their labor contract. About 40 social workers represented by the Service Employees International Union rallied outside the Board of Supervisors meeting to “bring our case out to the public,” according to one speaker.
“Right now we’ve got a lot of vulnerable children out there,” said Michael Green, regional director for SEIU 721, which represents about 55,000 county workers. “We’re asking the Board of Supervisors to do the right thing.”
Negotiators are asking the board to enforce a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker. To reach that yardstick, they want a commitment to hire 35 social workers each month through 2014 and beyond, according to SEIU spokesman Lowell Goodman. Of the 1,035 Department of Children and Family social workers who manage cases, 683 are working with 31 children or more, Goodman said
“We are overwhelmed,” Almira Garza told the board.
DCFS has hired 100 additional social workers who will be carrying full caseloads by January and is in the process of screening 150 more, according to DCFS director Philip Browning.
“We are concerned that cases are rising,” Browning said, citing an increase in calls to the Child Protection Hotline as one factor.
New hires require a master’s degree in social work and recruiting takes time, a department spokesman Armand Monteil said.
“We can’t just put in an order for 50 social workers and they comein,” Montiel said. “We rely heavily on local schools.”
According to Goodman, the department has authority from the board for those next 150 workers, while SEIU negotiators are looking for nearly four times that number.
Nurses are among the other bargaining units without a new contract. SEIU 721 also represents parks workers, librarians and employees who determine eligibility for benefits, among others. The wage increase is expected to be the same for all bargaining units within the SEIU. It mirrors that already agreed to by other county unions – a 2 percent wage increase this year, 2 percent next year and 2 percent in April 2015.
But non-economic issues like caseloads are being negotiated separately.
“We’ve made great progress — we’re not done yet,” Goodman said. Browning would not comment on the status of negotiations, referring calls to Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, who was not immediately available for comment.