Social Workers Strike over High Caseloads in L.A. County

December 6, 2013

In the first strike by Los Angeles County employees since 2000, more than 1,000 social workers took to the picket lines Thursday in a major escalation of a labor dispute over salary increases and caseloads.

The timing of a 6% raise is among the main sticking points in contract negotiations. But union leaders focused the public face of the dispute on social workers' caseloads, which protesters said were so high that they jeopardized the safety of the county's most vulnerable children.

"We don't have enough manpower to thoroughly investigate the cases," said Gerson Salazar, a dependency investigator who said he handles cases for 67 children. "They're extremely complicated cases and you can't resolve these issues in two weeks with [the size of our] workforce and be competent."

Political observers called the focus on child safety a smart move at a time when public sentiment about government-employee unions is dismal and many Angelenos in the private sector are still suffering from the recession.

"It's a public relations job unions have been forced into," said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A. "You have to start pleading a case that you feel is going to resonate with the public more than protecting pensions, more than getting raises. I think it's smart politics."

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