Dozens of our fellow SEIU 721 members who keep LA County clean, healthy and functioning testified at today’s official budget hearing, highlighting various challenges across numerous departments in a formal presentation to the LA County Board of Supervisors. Concerns raised by our union ranged from the impact that improper staffing levels are having on the quality of public services we can provide to bonus inequities which unfairly impact some of LA County’s most dedicated public servants.
“I was on the negotiation team and after contention, hard-fought negotiations by both sides, our hard work paid off and we settled our contract,” said Fiona Henlon, a Relief Nurse with the Department of Health Services. “It’s not right that six months after we settled our contract, we still haven’t received our bonuses or pay increases and we haven’t been told when we’ll get them either. We were only notified on May 2nd that we now have to go through LACERA to see if the bonuses are pensionable. I’m a Relief Nurse. I’m not even part of LACERA. But I am part of the safety net for LA County. In DHS, our permanent Nurses are the safety net for the public – and Relief Nurses like me the safety net for them. We’ve earned our bonuses and shouldn’t have to wait any longer. These bonuses and pay increases are a big retention incentive and we need to show our workforce that we value their work.”
In response to these concerns, the Board of Supervisors sent a five-signature letter to the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association – commonly known as “LACERA” – to expedite the process.
SEIU 721 members also raised concerns about LA County’s continued practice of contracting out jobs, particularly in the Department of Parks and Recreation. Despite voter passage of Measure A in November of 2016 – which supplied the department with an additional $74.7 million on top of their annual budget – the department still plans to cut staff hours and rely on part-time, recurrent employees to perform full-time, year-round functions.
“From a labor standpoint, this means that the vast majority of Parks and Rec jobs do not provide compensation sufficient to support a household, do not provide adequate health benefits, nor do they provide any prospect for a secure retirement,” said Meliza Hernandez, a Parks After Dark Coordinator at Loma Alta Park in Altadena. “Park users are short-changed as well since a part-time, temporary workforce results in greater turnover, more tenuous ties to the community and a weaker commitment to LA County’s mission.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis and LA County CEO Sachi Hamai responded positively to concerns about part-time work throughout the Department of Parks and Recreation. Ultimately, the entire Board of Supervisors formally requested that the department identify potential sources of funding to rectify the matter.
Among other concerns raised by SEIU 721 members:
- Library budget hole – If the current proposed budget is passed with no changes, the LA County Library will endure a $37.8 million reduction from the prior year – and a $51.2 million reduction from the actual Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget. Cutbacks to programs and staff most likely would follow, even though underserved communities depend heavily on library programming and patrons of all backgrounds continue to use LA County Libraries at a brisk rate.
- Caseload freeze in In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) – The typical caseload of an IHSS Social Worker is now over 400, which is significantly above the 249 caseload benchmark agreed upon in the official MOU between LA County and SEIU 721. More work has been hoisted on IHSS workers, not less, and vacant positions remain unfilled.
- High caseloads in Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) – Though LA County’s work with SEIU 721 has resulted in significant progress towards reducing DCFS social worker caseloads, the numbers are still too high – and the expiration of the Title IV-E Waiver threatens to halt our progress.
- Animal Control response times – The national standard is a ratio of one Animal Control Officer for every 18,000 residents. Unfortunately, in LA County, the standard is nearly twice that, with one officer for every 33,000 residents. That means our officers can only respond in a timely fashion to one out of every three high-priority calls.
- “Proposition A” jobs – While the Board of Supervisors has expressed a preference to perform governmental functions using LA County employees – instead of contractual employees, which is allowed under Proposition A – it will require additional resources and those should be identified in the budget.
- Health Information Management (HIM) backlogs – The Department of Health Services uses an expensive HIM registry to fill numerous staffing positions. Outpatient HIM staff could be trained to fill desperately needed inpatient positions. But DHS must be given the authority to do so.
- EVS contract – We’ve made great strides on improving the EVS contract by contracting in full-time, permanent workers. This practice should be replicated across LA County.
- Fixing Standby Coverage – Constant staff shortages in the Department of Health Services Cardiac Lab, Interventional Radiology, Neuroradiology, Intravascular Neurosurgery, Vascular Surgery and Cardiac Electrophysiology mean that IR Technologist radiology staff must be called in to fill the gaps. Additional positions must be created to stop the revolving door – and proper compensation for standby coverage must be addressed.
- Work-based enumeration for the 2020 Census – An undercount of one million people in the State of California would result in a loss of $20 billion. Our union recommends that enumeration stations be set up in Department of Public Social Services lobbies, health center waiting rooms and other similar public-facing facilities – with fully-trained LA County workers equipped to guide residents through the enumeration process.
Today’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting marked the official closure of Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget hearings. Budget deliberations will resume in June, with a final vote expected at the end of that month.