It was a virtually unprecedented show of labor power and unity in politically conservative Orange County, CA, when hundreds of County Eligibility Workers turned out at two high-profile public awareness actions this week.
On May 6 and May 7, the workers joined forces with religious leaders, the Orange County Labor Federation, the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA) and other supporters, first at a somber evening vigil and then at a spirited rally, to demand that the County Board of Supervisors do the fiscally and ethically responsible thing by funding Social Services at sufficient levels. The Orange County Social Services Agency has been understaffed and unable to keep up with public demand for years amid relentless hiring freezes and budget cutbacks.
But this week, organizers of the actions blew the whistle on a dirty little County secret: Over $52 million had been delivered to the County to fund vital “safety net” programs such as CalWorks, food stamps, foster care, Welfare to Work and Medi-Cal to assist the poor. But not one dime of it is was spent as intended, according to the budget analysis of a labor economist and consultant hired by AFSCME Local 2076.
Sandra Fox, President of AFSCME Local 2076:
Our caseloads have spun out of control. We don’t even know where to begin our day at work because it has become so overwhelming. We have so many mandates to meet and deadlines to make that we are pulling our hair out trying to juggle all of the work and get the services to the residents who need them.
Her sentiments were reinforced by clergy who spoke. Rev. Sarah Halverson, pastor at Fairview Community Church and Chair of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE/Orange County):
In a community that I believe cares about serving the most vulnerable among us, it is simply wrong that the County is just sitting on $52 million in federal revenues that were designated to be spent on assisting these people.
While the events fell on two quite rare rainy days in Southern California, it was clear no amount of rainfall was able to deter the participants, who packed a plaza outside the Board of Supervisors building. While it remains to be seen just how the County will respond, the message of the Eligibility Workers was crystal clear: We will keep speaking out as long as it takes!