Dozens of Orange County Social Service Agency clerical employees on Thursday stood in front of one of the most infected buildings at the County of Orange and publicly called out their managers to do better, protect them and their families from the threat of rising COVID infections at the long troubled, 840 N. Eckhoff Building. 

The clerical workers, joined by a crowd of about 100 including local and state elected officials, union officials and workers from other county departments, openly discussed their fears about contracting the virus while reminding management and county supervisors that not only does an infection affect their personal health and livelihood, but also slows down the process of helping children and families in need.

In the last month, infections have increased significantly. County worker infections rose from 87 cases in November to 432 in December, according to county data retrieved by Voice of OC. 

Despite the rising cases, accompanied by public assurances by County CEO Frank Kim and Social Services Agency Director Debra Baetz, clerical staff are sending public alarm signals to policy makers that their managers are not listening, or managing effectively, much less compassionately. 

 “I don’t feel management or administration is listening to the clerical staff and hearing what we have to say. Don’t sugar coat it and say we have nothing going on here when left and right we are getting daily notifications of covid positive cases – here on this campus! It is a scary situation,” says Norma Granger, 57, Social Services-Information Processing Technician. 

“We matter,” was the chant heard most on Thursday. 

Here is what some workers who spoke to Voice of OC told us about what they are experiencing.

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Norma Granger, 57, Social Services-Information Processing Technician, attends the protest outside of the Orange County Social Services building in Orange on Jan. 20, 2022. Granger, who has been employed with the county for over 30 years, is asking for management to take better care of their non-telecommute essential employees during covid outbreaks. 

Because not only does Granger not want to avoid getting sick, but she also worries about the repercussions it has on her personal life. 

“Since January, we have had 39 positive cases here. I am just worried; my husband is older than me, I have grandchildren I want to see, and I cant. I don’t know if I have been exposed here, and even if you have been exposed, we have been told that as long as you aren’t showing symptoms you still have to come into work–and that scares me, and it scares a lot of my colleagues as well,” says Granger, as shouting by her colleagues is heard in the background, “And I don’t feel management or administration is listening to the clerical staff and hearing what we have to say. Don’t sugar coat it and say we have nothing going on here when left and right we are getting daily notifications of covid positive cases–here on this campus! It is a scary situation.”

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Sasza Neverez, 25, a unit clerk at the county, has avoided getting sick for the past two years. But Neverez feels his current work environment is putting all of that at risk. 

“All of our concerns have been completely dismissed, we were actually told we would only be provided one telecommuting day for the next four weeks, and even then it was still undetermined as to when that would take action,” Neverez said to Voice of OC, “to put it in the grand scheme of things, it’s only four days out of an entire month they are offering for our safety, and that is not enough for us, considering we are on the front lines, and there is low ventilation in our buildings. There are a lot of concerns that we brought up a week ago in a town hall meeting.” 

Neverez says over 150 people were in that meeting, and management is “still choosing to take their time.”

“I know some people might not take the pandemic as seriously and might not take the precautions outside of work. For me, I go straight home, and I don’t go anywhere else, so being be put in a position of having to be around others that might not take it seriously, that might put others that do take it seriously in danger.” 

A month ago, Neverez says he was exposed to covid at home but was still asked to come into work by his superiors while informing Neverez that being exposed to covid does not exempt Neverez from coming into the workplace.

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Sandra Ramos, 56, speaks to the crowd gathered outside the Orange County Social Services building on Jan. 20, 2022. Ramos, who has been employed with the city for five years, voices concerns of covid safety in the workplace and additionally how a sick staff will affect not only herself but the services they provide to children in need. 

“We are here to serve the community and children, and I love my job, I love what I do, I like supporting my social workers, those cases of the children? They are like my kids–and I do love what I do, but I also fear for my safety.”  

Without any reason, management told Ramos and her coworkers to work from the office since September, despite employees pushing for telecommuting, Ramos said. 

“We have had 55 cases in the 840 building, that is not including the other buildings. I come to work because again I love my job,” said Ramos to a crowd cheering in agreement, “but I also have to go home to my family, so I fear for my family. Management is at home working from home; we had a supervisor tell her team that she ‘got corona’ so she is working from home, and she told her unit to work from home as much as they can because one of the healthcare nurses told her this was ‘a petri dish,’ and this is where I come to work.” 

“Without us, the social workers have no support.” 

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

An employee of the OC Health Agency stands away from the crowd on her car, showing support and relates to what the Social Services workers are experiencing. “We are supposed to be the standard, and we [ Health Care Agency] are having outbreaks,” says the pictured employee who agreed to be interviewed but wished to remain anonymous, “the clients that I’m meeting with for 90 minutes don’t know that. Almost everyday we are getting [positive] covid notifications.”

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Concerned over covid outbreaks, OCEA members and Social Services clerical staff gathered to protest and demand better working conditions. Jan. 20, 2022.

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