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In this file photo, people attend the National Children's Memorial Flag Raising Ceremony at the Kern County Department of Human Services building.

Kern County Department of Human Services employees have reported widespread discontent with working conditions, and some say they fear for their safety after several recent incidents.

As the department’s administration attempts to grapple with several issues brought up by employees, complaints are arising in different areas. A department spokeswoman said the administration was trying to address safety and workload issues raised by employees.

At least one employee appealed to the Kern County Civil Service Commission, an independent ruling body that conducts appeal hearings on disciplinary matters, alleging that she was retaliated against for union activity. The appeal was investigated and dismissed after the employee said she only wanted the commission to be aware of conditions in the department.

Another employee has filed a claim with the county, seeking more than $10,000 for what she says is a wrongful termination.

In a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors as part of the claim, a law firm representing employee Monica Fitzgerald said she had witnessed unethical behavior while working for Child Protective Services in 2016, which included several individuals using false evidence to have children removed from their family.

In addition, a petition is circulating among Human Services employees, asking Director Dena Murphy to enact measures that would lead to better conditions.

Multiple employees say they have been forced to work long hours and through their lunch breaks due to the high workload.

“We have endured verbal abuse, physical abuse, unsafe working conditions, hostile work environments, and increased workloads with unrealistic expectations that lead to discipline,” states a copy of the petition obtained by The Californian. “Yet, we remained faithful to providing public services to those who are often impoverished, broken, in imminent need, or at a loss when they enter our doors for services.”

It is unknown how many employees have signed the petition, but it began circulating earlier this week.

In response, Human Services spokeswoman Jana Slagle said she could not comment on the claim because of the county’s policy regarding pending litigation. She said she was unaware of the petition, but added that the county was looking into measures that could reduce workloads for employees and address morale issues.

However, she said, those efforts are hindered by the limited budgets passed by the Board of Supervisors each year due to the county’s fiscal situation.

“We are always looking at ways of improving morale,” she said, noting that many Human Services employees help those who are going through personal crises. “We’re trying to help people in tough situations. It’s not an easy environment, but we try to encourage our staff in a lot of different ways.”

But as the top county officials attempt to grapple with the high workloads and low morale among Human Services employees, some say the damage has already been done.

“The problem is that this is creating a public crisis,” said Service Employees International Union local President Veronica Vasquez. “We have a high turnover rate, low retention, lack of recruitment. Our story is in so many ways similar to the sheriff’s.”

She said many employees had long-simmering complaints about working conditions, but had kept silent until two evacuations of the department’s main building at California Avenue and an irate customer who broke the glass of an employee’s station window prompted concerns about safety.

“Members are making it known that they fear for their safety here and they fear for the safety of their clients,” Vasquez said.

On June 3, a customer reportedly shattered a benefit insurance window in the Human Services building.

The next day, the building was evacuated after a man was found hiding in the crawl space of the ceiling.

Then, slightly more than a week later, the building was evacuated again when a man reportedly claimed he had a bomb in his backpack.

Slagle said Human Services administrators are taking steps to ensure employee safety.

“We’re very aware of it and we’re working on a lot of different ways to solve that problem,” she said of the safety issues, noting that 50,000 people enter the front lobby of the California Avenue headquarters each month.

The Bakersfield Police Department has conducted a sweep of the building to identify safety issues, and the department is looking into stationing an officer in the lobby as well as installing metal detectors.

If the department completes these procedures, many of the issues brought up in the petition would be addressed.

However, the workload could be a more difficult problem to tackle.

According to a draft budget released by the county on Thursday, Human Services employs approximately 1,691 people, including 399 in Child Protective Services, making it one of the county’s largest departments.

In a letter to supervisors released Thursday, the County Administrative Office said caseloads for the Human Service's general assistance program had increased 32 percent in fiscal year 2018-19 and are expected to increase by 12 percent in FY 2019-20.

Although the county is designating $5.4 million in one-time funding to offset costs related to the increased workload as well as $1.6 million in a budget increase, “a long-term solution for this escalating trend will need to be identified,” the CAO’s office said in the letter.

As the county continues with the process of approving next fiscal year’s budget, Vasquez said the union is encouraging the department to take steps to address employee concerns.

The county is scheduled to consider the budget Tuesday, in a process that typically wraps up around the end of July.

“This crisis is impacting us all,” Vasquez said. “It seems like this is getting worse for us, and we are providing services for the most vulnerable members of the community.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

(48) comments

Athena Bragi

??? Was Dena Murphy Board Appointed or was she voted in by County Residents???

RetiredCountyWorker

Board appointed..

Copper

DENA MURPHY do your job or get out

RetiredCountyWorker

[thumbup]

Vavoom

pro life kern christians? only in utero self righteous followers? this is the spew of capitalism... leave those behind who cannot fend for themselves, conflict with christian teachings/values kern christians?

RetiredCountyWorker

?

Copper

Funny conservatives are so angry at women and children receiving food and medicine yet don’t say boo about corporate welfare and the zero taxes most billion dollars companies pay. Maybe if the government made corps pay their fair share of tax there would be a surplus of money to feed starving children and give medicine to those in need. Then these same people claim to be Christian but don’t want to help the poor. Read your Bible it speaks about helping poor more than any other issue.Mind boggling.

RetiredCountyWorker

I agree.. some things you write are correct. Reading the Bible and helping others is needed. However, the needy are getting “needier” for lack of a better word. Take away from what I worked for all my life and take away from my adult children and grandchildren to help those who choose to be where they are. We do not live in a third world country, no one is starving and I have to say that the medicine is more difficult to get for working individuals that have insurance. There are plenty of resources to help the needy and hungry so starving won’t happen. Women and children receiving food stamps? It’s not about the women and children anymore, it’s about able bodied adults that don’t need to do anything to get everything.

ProtectingkidsXCPS

Children Protective Services (CPS) statistics in year 2016. 11,918 children in out of home placement. 255 of those children reunified with parents. 4,166 reunified with family. That staggering total of children leaves 4,166 children unaccounted for. You can find the yearly statistics on the Kern County Child Protective Services website. Attorney Matt Harrison from San Diego explains it best. No Findings No Funding. Your discontent may be well deserved. Imagine the discontent you have brought into all those families making decisions your not qualified to make. Maybe your government is treating you exactly the way your trained to treat society.

GetReal2

Low Morale? . . . In lieu of a raise, how about some more Lean Six Sigma training?

yorkies2014

humm...a decade ago the Republicans were doing everything to keep the rich farmers rich....and here we are....One version of this legislation, the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 was passed by the United States House of Representatives on July 27, 2007. Despite opposition from some senators, including a failed amendment proposal by Senator Richard Lugar and a veto threat by President Bush, the Senate version of the bill, called the Food and Energy Security Act, was passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee on October 25, 2007, and later by the full Senate on December 14.[3][4] In late April 2008, congressional negotiators finally reached a deal to reconcile the House and Senate bills. The deal increased spending on food stamps and other food programs while mostly maintaining the current farm subsidies, despite record farm profits.[5]

Jane

@GaryCrabtree FYI Illegal immigrants do not receive any benefits

Inconvenient Truth

Wrong. EBT cards are routinely issued to illegal aliens who manage to cross the border before birthing their babies. By virtue of birthing their offspring on this side of the border, illegals are given Cash Aid, Food Stamps and Medi-Cal for their children (since you can't give an EBT card to a newborn). Every additional child born means more benefits...

RetiredCountyWorker

This is true..

Copper

So you have a problem with feeding hungry men women and children ?

RetiredCountyWorker

Absolutely not. Where did I say I have a problem with so called feeding hungry men women and children?

Patricia Edna

“Illegal immigrants do not receive any benefits”...let me guess, you also bought oceanfront property in Arizona? You must be either gullible or highly ill-informed

Finis

I worked at Kern County DHS for 13 years as a social Worker, from 1997 to 2010, and working conditions were deplorable way back then. Workers subjected to violence, failure to follow labor laws or the County's own policies and procedures, retaliation for labor union activity and whistle blowing on fraud and corruption, and harassment of disabled employees workers. Some things never change when the County Board of Supervisors turn a blind eye.

RetiredCountyWorker

The director doesn’t help by not doing her job.. again..SHE IS NOT DOING HER JOB

Copper

Sounds like SHE needs to be forced into retirement and replaced with someone who will do the job. Call her out by name and shine a spotlight on it. They had the same problem with mental health director before the new director took over a few years ago. If they don’t produce replace them.

RetiredCountyWorker

It’s not hard to get that info.. who the directors are of any county dept. But I can easily put her out there and state that this person that does not do her job as a director for the whole dept, Dena Murphy. Some may not agree, but those will be her favorites. As I said, she is director of the whole dept of human services, not only the divisions she favors. Dena do your job!

Copper

Is the same person in charge now as when you worked there?

RetiredCountyWorker

Yes, same person. I worked there long enough to see 5 Directors in the Dept. current director being the 5th.

yorkies2014

dang.....overload...."50,000 people enter the front lobby of the California Avenue headquarters each month"

RetiredCountyWorker

They are aware of the amount of people walking through the front doors, yet no additional security, no rules in the lobby.. Manager in charge of security and safety has no clue what the lobby even looks like. Until someone is seriously hurt, they will turn a blind eye.

Captainron47

First off, I’m sure human services receives federal money as well as county funds. I’m betting there is a ton of waste over there just like in all county agencies. Second, put an end to providing free services and hold people accountable and you will see a big change. But its California and your sinking fast. But hey, you Californians feel it’s more important to fly the rainbow flag over the state capital then addressing real problems. A once great state is nothing more then a welfare service. Everyday I give thanks I was able to get out of there.

Nevermind

Yeah, California is sinking fast, that's why it's the 5th most powerful economy in the world.

Patricia Edna

The economy argument is pointless when we have an out of control homeless population, once-eradicated diseases now becoming a health crisis, and constant mismanagement of funds by the government. What good is our economy when all it gets us is looking like a third world state in a first world country? Sit down with your nonsense

GetReal2

What does the Gay Pride flag have to do with anything in the article?

Copper

Just a homophobe mad About gay pride. Crawl back in your hole.

Copper

We are glad you are not here as well. Hate mongerers please leave California . And don’t let the door hit ....

Ciscojav

Kern County Department of Human Services county workers are on the frontlines to provide essential services to the most vulnerable in the community. "We Fight The War Against Poverty, Homelessness, Child Abuse, Elder Abuse, Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking, Opioid Addictions, Meth Addictions, Mental Illness, Unemployment." Kern County Department of Human Services provide Hope when some Kern County families have lost All Hope.

RetiredCountyWorker

Yes.. it’s what the are hired to do. But the risk is there obviously. Safety is horrible and the security/ safety manger should be fired. He does not do his job and hasn’t for a long time. Any concerns that have been taken to him for years were ignored.. emails sent regarding concerns were never addressed nor did he even respond.

OldLady

That’s a tough place to work. Scamming was rampant, but workers were to turn a blind eye.

RetiredCountyWorker

Turn a blind eye...only when its convenient for admin.

Copper

If the head stinks the whole body stinks. The head person needs to be fired or resign.

RetiredCountyWorker

Agreed

Gary Crabtree

And they just keep coming across the border. If something is not done about border security, next year it will be 100,000/ month. Beam me up Scotty.

Copper

Actually there is something being done about border security. Concentration Camps. Yet the numbers just keep skyrocketing. Clearly that is not the answer.

ProtectingkidsXCPS

Concentration Camps? Please explain that statement.

Gene Pool Chlorinator

She was just parroting AOC's ridiculous statement about detention centers on the border. Obviously she's a big AOC fan, which explains 99% of her inane posts...

Vavoom

blaming... great defense, NOT!

Jane

Just an FYI illegal immigrants do not receive aid for themselves

RetiredCountyWorker

They don’t receive aid. But they receive free medical and there are tons of advocates that teach them how to be eligible. Is having babies at no cost not considered aid to you? Is having your children you’re responsible for being fed sheltered and cared for not receiving aid? Wow

lrlopez74

Why does a community that illegally spends public money to proclaim to itself how Christian it is allow so much suffering among its members?

Patricia Edna

As opposed to LA or SF who are self-righteously liberal yet daily step over the very people they claim to care about? Get out of here.

GetReal2

Much more tolerate to send the poor to prison than step over them, I guess is your point.

Patricia Edna

Letting them rot on the streets is more tolerable, is your point?

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