Los Angeles County supervisors agreed Tuesday to spend $500,000 in emergency funds to hire 70 additional children's social workers--thus apparently averting a threatened job action by several hundred county employees.
The social workers, many of whom deal with abused and neglected children, had said that they would refuse to handle any new cases unless the board and the county's Department of Children's Services lifted a hiring freeze and began filling vacant jobs.
More than 500 of the 900 children's social workers who carry caseloads had signed a petition indicating that they would not accept any more cases unless the board acted.
After staging a peaceful demonstration outside the Hall of Administration, about 35 of those employees went inside and listened Tuesday as the supervisors voted unanimously to hire the 70 new social workers and another 12 clerical staffers.
Although the numbers fell short of what the workers had proposed, Phil Ansell, a spokesman for Local 535 of the Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, told the board that his membership was heartened by its action.
"We're not happy with that, but we can live with it," said Ansell, who had pressed for nearly twice the number of hirings.
The 70 new positions will be used to help fill 150 social-worker vacancies in the child welfare and adoption services. Ansell said the vacancies will increase by another 64 in the next four months.
Ansell said the social workers will vote tonight on whether to call off their plan to reject any new cases. He said, however, that he expects the union leadership to recommend that the action be "held in abeyance."
"We are not going away angry," said Annette Jeffries, another children's social worker, after the board vote. "We have made some accomplishments."
Will Provide $500,000
In agreeing to hire more social workers, county officials said that additional state money, as well as savings from the Department of Children's Services, will provide the $500,000 needed for the increase in the staff.
"While it won't be totally perfect, I believe it's reasonable and a sound approach at this time," said Robert Chaffee, the department's director, who said that priority will go to hiring social workers who deal with emergency child-care cases.
Chaffee said the hiring will begin immediately and proceed as quickly as possible and that another assessment will be made next month to see if any more hirings should be made, an action that would require further approval by the board.