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Today at noon, Child and Family Services Agency employees—along with numerous sympathetic union reps—staged a protest outside their headquarters at 400 6th Street SW. The employees were protesting the firings of six of their co-workers in the aftermath of the Banita Jacks case. They were also protesting the media coverage of their agency following the Jacks tragedy.
In the downpour, they talked about being singled out and scapegoated. There were many other agencies that should have taken more of the blame. If the police couldn’t get through to Banita Jacks, one argued, how were they supposed to?
The workers chanted “We’re fired up! We can’t take it no more!”
A boot-and-umbrella count charitably estimates about 100 workers, union members, and curious onlookers. Tony Sanchez, an admin. reviewer with the agency, hovered in the back, scrunched between so many of his soggy brethren. A friend held an umbrella over his head. He held a folded sign. “It was an injustice done to the workers,” he said. He explained that the six who were fired were never told exactly what they did wrong before they were terminated. “They didn’t do anything wrong according to the policy.”
I asked Sanchez who he would hold accountable for the Jacks case. He replied: “Mrs. Jacks.”
One more spoke with the bullhorn. Then people started going back inside the building, leaving the entrance to a few wet media folk. The protest lasted about as long as three cigarette breaks.
I was directed to Debra Courtney, president of the local. Of the six workers, she said: “They were made to [be] the fall guys.” She says the six were just following procedure. They’re “holding up pretty good,” she says.
Courtney added: “They have faith in their counsel.”
Meaning: The fight isn’t over.
A few minutes before the protests, everyone got a handout. It was a letter from the union to Mayor Adrian Fenty sent today.
I wish I could post the whole thing. But I can’t. So here’s a sampling of what the letter—written by Geo T. Johnson, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 20—states:
Yet another high profile family tragedy weighs heavy on the hearts of District residents. The horrific deaths of four Southwest Washington children at the hands of their troubled mother has led many people to ask, ‘How could this happen? How could city agencies such as the Child and Family Services Agency fail to protect these innocent children?’
The answer that you pulled from your thick crisis containment playbook was media-perfect: call a quick press conference; conduct a ‘thorough’ two-day investigation; pin the blame on some frontline folks and then skip to the next sound-bite. Ah, so simple.
But with all due respect, Mr. Mayor, there is no ‘Simple Button’ to press to plug holes in the city’s safety net for families and children. Nor is anything gained by promising major reforms but then not sticking around long enough to see them through….
The letter goes on to cite real examples of what their workers go through:
Management has told social workers to use Flex cars to conduct investigations, but they cannot transport children in Flex cars because it creates a liability problem. If social workers use their personal cars when they go to court or to some neighborhoods, they end up paying thousands of dollars in parking fines because they can’t feed the meter.
There is of course deeper problems, the letter states the problems as: “outdated policy manuals, lack of continuous training, and excessive caseloads.” In fact, the letter claims social workers are carrying 50 percent more cases then they are mandated to by LaShawn.
The letter closes with a plea to Fenty to join the union in a “genuine partnership” for “common ground” and “better ideas.”