Fighting to care
Social workers take center stage in labor gallery exhibit


T. Rice, infant

Social worker Terence Rice cradles an abused infant in this photograph by labor photographer Richard Bermack. The image is part of “Fighting to Care,” an exhibit on view at the Institute of Industrial Relations through July 15.

06 March 2002 | Terence Rice, a child social worker of the Service Employees International Union 535, shows signs of strain as he cradles an abused infant in his arms in this black-and-white photograph, taken by California labor photographer Richard Bermack.

“It’s tough because sometimes it’s a losing situation” to take babies away from their abusive mothers, he says of his job in the union’s Emergency Response Command Post. “I feel really bad for the parents, because I really believe that, on some level, they love their kid and just want to do what is best. But they are just so wrapped up living in so much pain themselves that they just can’t get beyond that to see the other person.”

“Fighting to Care: California’s Social Workers” — Bermack’s photo series on the triumphs and tragedies of social work — is on exhibit at the campus’s Institute of Industrial Relations through July 15.

The new exhibit is the second at the institute to highlight labor photographers in California, says outreach librarian Lincoln Cushing.

“Labor photography is an underdeveloped field,” Cushing says, “but it’s worthy of academic research and presentation.”

“Fighting to Care” captures everyday life among the ranks of SEIU 535, which represents most of the social workers in California. Most are fighting to provide better services to their clients, especially working families and the poor. But ironically, the stress of the job often puts the workers themselves in trouble.

“I don’t feel that the job is too fun, in the sense that you are dealing with a lot of pain and a lot of sorrow and a lot of kids who deserve a lot better,” says Rice, who tried to comfort the injured baby boy in Bermack’s 1991 photograph.

The situation is so critical that one out of five county children’s social workers quits each year, notes a recent study commissioned by the California state legislature.

Bermack, who is co-editor of the union’s statewide newspaper, the Dragon, has won many awards — including the AFL-CIO’s prestigious Max Steinbock Award for humanistic journalism — for his writing and photography on the crisis in social work.

The Institute of Industrial Relations Gallery — open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday — is located at 2521 Channing Way. For information, see or call 642-5452.


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