Simon Cardy (Twitter @simoncardy) of SWAN West Midlands, reports on the developing, mass strike action by social workers taking place in Los Angeles County, California:
A very determined, and at times militant, strike of around 1600 social workers organised by the Service Employees International Union SEIU has been taking place in Los Angeles County over the last week or so. The SEIU is one of the largest public sector unions in America. A six day strike began on Tuesday 2nd December by social workers working in the Department of Children and Family Services Social Workers (DCFS) . Thousands of support staff joined the strike after three days in a massive act of solidarity. They are fed up with a four year pay freeze, long hours and excessive caseloads – sounds familiar?
The dispute, which has been running for several weeks, relates to the renewal of a new contract – the old one expired on the 30th September. The key issue is the question of workloads. Earlier this year in May, the employer was ordered by a court to reduce caseloads in the Compton office. The Union claim this court order was ignored. The Department of Children and Family Services has also been in the spotlight after the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in Palmdale who was tortured and beaten to death. His mother and her boyfriend were arrested and charged with his murder. Two DCFS social workers and two supervisors were sacked following the investigation after Fernandez's death – again an all too common story to those of us in the UK.
As part of the build up to the strike the Union launched a legal action against the employer on the 5th November on the grounds that the county was failing to comply with a court order to reduce the case load of social workers to 31 each.
A month later, when there was still no agreement, the social workers went on strike mounting several large pickets and rallies around the county . Millicent de Loro, one of the striking social workers on the picket line said “I’m here based on principle. Why do we do the job that we do? To work with families - to work with children. That’s why I’m here - not for the money” 
There were several large rallies mounted outside the offices of the County senior managers. Some offices were occupied for a short time. The mood was clearly resolute. Some of the strikers have adopted tactics of civil disobedience on the streets with hundreds of protesters occupying a road intersection between Hill and Temple streets in central LA. Seven protesters were arrested who had sat down on the road, 4 of them social workers, for ‘refusing to disperse’ a minor misdemeanour offence .
At the time of writing the strike has forced the County bosses back to the negotiating table on Wednesday the 11th December. There is an offer on the table of around a 6% pay increase, increasing health premiums and a $500 bonus in 2014 but the social workers will not settle without a reduction in caseloads (they are demanding the County recruit 35 more social workers a month for the next 17 months).
You can send messages of support to SEIU721 on Facebook and @SEIU721 twitter - SWAN sends international solidarity to all taking action in LA County and colleagues in SEIU.
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