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AFSCME probation workers protest unsafe working conditions

Members of AFSCME District Council 36 rally for workplace safety. (Photo credit: Daisha Benjamin)
By Daisha Benjamin ·
AFSCME probation workers protest unsafe working conditions
DC 36 members rally. (Photo credit: Daisha Benjamin)

LOS ANGELES – Members of AFSCME Local 685 and Local 1967, who work for Los Angeles County’s probation department, are going public with their demand for safer workplaces.

They took part in a rally last week led by the Coalition of Probation Unions leaders and joined by supporters such as Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera and International Association of Firefighters Local 1014 President Dave Gillotte.

The Aug. 16 rally was held in response to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ lack of action to protect probation department employees from being assaulted on the job. More than two dozen probation officers are assaulted each month by youth in Los Angeles County probation facilities.

“Most of these assaults happen when officers are breaking up fights between youth to stop them from hurting each other or killing each other,” said Local 685 President Hans Liang. “Since January, there have been an average of 113 youth-on-youth assaults each month in the halls and camps. Imagine how many more there would be or how serious these fights would be if we weren’t there to intervene immediately.”

Probation department employees have been fighting for safer workspaces for years. In April 2021, they called for change after Detention Service Office Michael Wall died in the line of duty shortly after breaking up a fight at Central Juvenile Hall. No changes were filed.

The Coalition of Probation Unions held a rally in April 2022 to present their three-point plan to improve the probation department, which included ways to make their workplace safer.

Lack of staffing and outsourcing are the main contributors to the problem. Instead of hiring qualified workers to handle probationers, the county has been outsourcing work to underqualified and untrained workers, which puts probation officers at a greater risk of being assaulted. Earlier this month, the county posted three new positions with job descriptions similar to those for probation officers – though the positions did not require a degree or practically any experience.

Local 685 member Stacy Ford said the Board of Supervisors should be held to account.

“This board has done nothing in support of the probation department,” Ford said at last week’s rally. “In fact, they have supported rules, regulations and legislation that has crippled our camps and juvenile halls. This board should be under fire for what I call unresponsiveness. They have been unresponsive to our calls for help.”

The Coalition of Probation Unions requested funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom. However, the Board of Supervisors rejected the funding, stating that it was not needed. The coalition and its supporters also want the Board of Supervisors to adapt their three-point plan, which will limit the unsafe working conditions and reduce the number of probation officers assaulted on the job.

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