Layoff notices are expected to be handed this morning to 96 Orange County Social Services Agency employees in the first round of layoffs since Chief Executive Officer William J. Popejoy announced plans last month to reduce the county work force by 12%.
Labor organizers representing the social service workers learned late Wednesday afternoon that the layoffs will occur in three phases beginning today, said Nikki Niznik, president of the county unit of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees. A total of 292 social workers will be laid off by the end of June, and some or all of four welfare offices will be closed, union officials said.
"This is the big one," Niznik said. "It'll affect services. We won't be able to get to all our clients. We'll be overcrowded. People will have longer waits. We might not be able to service them all in one day. We may not be able to return phone calls. It's going to be all jammed up."'
The workers who will be laid off process applications to welfare programs such as Medicare and general relief. Niznik said the department will lose 23% of its employees, taking the biggest hit in the proposed countywide layoffs estimated at more than 700.
Union officials said the second and third wave of dismissals will take place about two weeks apart, eliminating about 100 workers each round.
Adam Acosta, business agent for the social workers' union, said the offices most likely to close are the smaller ones in Garden Grove and Costa Mesa. Two offices in Anaheim, one of which is the largest in the system, may also be closed.
As of Wednesday, union officials said they had not heard of layoffs in other county departments.
"We expect them to start any day now," said John H. Sawyer, head of the Orange County Employees Assn. "I'd say nearly every department and agency in the county is going to be affected. As sad as it is for the employees . . . the county is desperate to get some cuts out of the budget by the end of June, and they simply have to move ahead."