SEIU protest

County workers represented by Service Employeees International Union Local 721 protested in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday. Social workers are on strike seeking reduced caseloads. (Abby Sewell / Los Angeles Times / December 10, 2013)

Seven people were arrested for sitting in the middle of a downtown street in an act of civil disobedience Tuesday during a protest by striking Los Angeles County social workers.

County child-welfare workers, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 721, have been on strike since Thursday in a dispute over caseloads.

On Tuesday, 1,710 social workers and supervisors in the Department of Children and Family Services took part in the strike -- 57% of those scheduled to work -- county spokesman David Sommers said. They were joined by 264 clerical workers from DCFS and 316 workers from the county's Department of Public Social Services.

Social workers and supporters rallied outside of the county Hall of Administration during the Board of Supervisors' weekly meeting Tuesday. SEIU spokesman Lowell Goodman said an estimated 2,000 people took part.

A smaller contingent of protesters went in to speak to the board.

"Your employees have sacrificed hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of their own families' incomes in order to stand up for the most vulnerable children in Los Angeles County," SEIU Local 721 regional director Michael Green told the supervisors.

The county and SEIU have reached an agreement on raises, the county's contribution to health premiums and the majority of other contract issues. Social worker caseloads are the main remaining sticking point, with the union asking the county to commit to hiring 35 more social workers a month for the next 17 months.

County officials said they were committed to bringing caseloads down, both through new hires and technological improvements, but have balked at agreeing to a specific hiring number. County Chief Executive Officer Wiliam T Fujioka said he wanted to form a joint labor and management committee to review the caseload issue.

After the meeting, protesters marched in the street around the downtown building, with a Los Angeles Police Department escort. As the march reached Temple and Hill streets, a small group of protesters sat down in the middle of the intersection and remained seated after LAPD officers ordered protesters to disperse.

Seven protesters were arrested, LAPD officials said. Goodman said three of them were children's social workers and the others were SEIU employees. The rest of the marchers dispersed without incident.

Meanwhile, at the request of county management, a mediator contacted the SEIU in an attempt to bring the union back to the table, but Goodman said talks had not resumed as of Tuesday afternoon.

Sommers said the protest by the SEIU "isn't helpful" but that management was hopeful of getting the issues settled soon.

[For the Record, 4:55 p.m. PST Dec. 10: An earlier version of this post said four of the protesters arrested were social workers].

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Twitter: @sewella

abby.sewell@latimes.com