SEIU 721 represents more than 55,000 employees in Los Angeles County, stretching from the desert to the beaches. Our members provide quality parks, protect our drinking water, meet the needs of families, care for people at our hospitals and clinics, and much more for the 10 million people who live here.
All 41 members of the newly democratically elected SEIU 721 Executive Board Members were sworn in by SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger on April 21, 2010. The executive board is charged with governing SEIU 721 consistent with the bylaws that members voted upon last fall.
"...It's been a long road to get us here and I look forward to working with each of you on behalf of our members..." Bob Schoonover, SEIU Local 721 President.
LA County's budget plan released on April 19 includes cuts to public health, libraries and public safety but also keeps core services mostly intact. That's in part because of hard work by LA County employees.
Last year, 55,000 employees represented by SEIU Local 721 negotiated contracts that recognized the hard times, protected family health care and will Build a Better LA County by giving workers a voice in making government more efficient and effective for residents.
This year LA County employees are working to preserve funding from the state. Because LA County is mostly funded by state and federal budgets, cuts proposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger could lead to more service reductions for families, hospitals and neighborhoods.
"We came into bargaining with a slogan of building a better LA County, and we meant it. LA County is in better shape than some areas because we got ahead of the problem. But this year is still going to be tough for employees and our clients. We're trying to lay a strong foundation for recovery, not cut programs even more."
- Linda Dent, SEIU 721 Vice President and Intermediate Clerk, Registrar-Recorder
What LA County has proposed:
2010-11 budget is $22.7 billion, down $885 million. LA County is facing a $510.5-million budget gap. To reduce this budget gap, the County is proposing:
What we are saying:
"The Sheriff's Department is releasing hundreds of inmates earlier because of budget cuts. Public safety will be in jeopardy. We should look at the proper deployment of the staff we do have. Instead of replacing professional staff with deputies, one of the solutions could be to employ civilians and keep sworn personnel on the street."
- Tony Mendoza, evidence and property custodian II, Twin Towers
"I am marching to the State Capital to ensure that County workers and future County workers have an opportunity to make a decent living in the great state of California. We stand up now or lie down soon."
-Adam Benson, recreational therapist, Augustus Hawkins Mental Health Center
"If the budget is cut there's less funding for the families who need it now. We're talking about middle class families who have been affected by the economic downturn, who find themselves in a CalWorks office and never thought they'd be there. We should be there when they need us. We need to let the Legislature know that we can't afford any more cuts."
- Marlene Allen, GAIN Case Worker, DPSS
School districts have to open their budgets to the public. So do cities and counties. Now annual, independent audits may soon be the norm for California's multi-billion-dollar court system too.
Today a key legislative committee voted 9-0 for AB 2521, which will require independent audits of the Administrative Office of the Courts and local trial courts. The audits could flag mistakes before they are made, prevent abuse of funds and allow public debate about court spending priorities before court employees are laid off and courthouses closed to the public.
The committee also approved AB 1749, which creates whistleblower protections for AOC and court employees.
"Court employees and the public need to have confidence in the court system," said LA County Court Reporter Arnella Sims, who spoke before the committee vote. "There is a need for accountability and transparency regarding the precious finances of the judicial branch."
Why does accountability matter?
With open books and budgets, Los Angeles courts might not have laid off 329 people and closed courtrooms due to budget cuts. An independent audit of the Administrative Office of the Courts could have revealed reserve funds available to prevent these layoffs and court closures. And audits could help prevent more layoffs in the future.
San Mateo court administrators overlooked a $4 million deficit leading to dozens of layoffs and increasing backlogs that delay justice for crime victims and others who count on our courts. An independent audit could have found this mistake in time to prevent the layoffs.
"Without sensible, outside audits of the courts, mistakes can have serious consequences for families like mine," said San Mateo court worker Annette Ruiz Vides.
The Administrative Office of the Courts has spent nearly $2 billion on a computer system and costs have grown more than 35% without public oversight, according to the Daily Journal newspaper.
The Judicial Council called California courts' deficits "staggering" and said that available reserves should be used to keep courts functioning. But the report did not detail what funds were available.
Court closures, layoffs, lines, and backlogs.
California's trial courts are in sorry shape, and the public has suffered, but many believe this could have been prevented - if only the public and the legislature had known about all the available funds in our statewide court system.
Why didn't we know?
Because the administrative body that oversees courts, the Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) - unbelievably -- falls outside the jurisdiction of California's basic rules of good governance, including independent audit and financial oversight requirements.
It's time to change that and make sure that the AOC can't hide the ball anymore. Courts are for the public. Our tax dollars and fees fund them. It's time for the AOC and trial courts to receive rigorous, independent audits.
What you can do:
SEIU court employees are supporting AB 2521, which will require AOC and court audits. AB 2521 will be heard in committee on Tuesday, April 20.
To spread the word, share our video with your friends, along with a note about why you want more transparency and accountability in our court system.
March was social worker month and to celebrate social workers in several offices throughout Los Angeles, Riverside and Ventura counties nominated their peers to honor the critical work social workers do for children, families and elders in Southern California.
Here are some of the photos:
By John Tanner
SEIU 721 Executive Director
Note: This blog post ran as an op-ed in the Daily Journal, one of California's leading legal newspapers, on Tuesday, April 6.
There's a bona-fide budget crisis hitting California's courts and Los Angeles' packed courthouses. Courtrooms are already closed one day a month, and that has backed up cases and limited access to justice for small businesses, families and the public at large.
Over the next three years, as much as 30 percent of the Los Angeles Superior Court system could shut down unless the state's funding priorities shift.
That's the picture court employees and officials, law enforcement, family advocates and many judges have been painting for more than a year.
Now even the Judicial Council finally is saying what the rest of us have known. A report released March 30 by the state courts' governing body said without immediate help the cuts to local courts will be "staggering."
"Courts will require additional funding to be able to avoid significant reductions in operations, including potentially substantial staff reductions and furloughs over the next three years," the report states.
Just last month, the cash-strapped Los Angeles Superior Court laid off 329 employees, cut document-processing services and shut down services for the public like the traffic-citation call center that assisted 2,000 people each month. Revenue generating services such as traffic and civil cases have been compromised. Justice is further delayed for families, crime victims and the 100,000 people who use Los Angeles courts every day.
Court employees and officials are asking the Judicial Council immediately to free up money, cancel this layoff and restore services to the public.