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Minorities, Women Would Feel Pain of County Cuts : Budget: Latinos, blacks and Asian Americans are two-thirds of L.A. County work force.

June 25, 1995|PETER Y. HONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Closing the Los Angeles County budget deficit by cutting a fifth of county jobs, as has been proposed by top administrator Sally Reed, could also dry up what has been a well of job opportunities for thousands of minorities, say advocates for minority groups.

In addition to being the county's largest employer, the county government has aggressively hired minorities, so much so that today two-thirds of the county's 79,000 full-time employees--including a majority of supervisors--are Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans. Women are 57% of county workers.

"The county has long been a major employer of African Americans and other minorities, so whenever the budget-cutting ax swings, our constituents catch the brunt of it," said Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack.

Rudolfo Acuna, a Cal State Northridge Chicano Studies professor, said that county jobs were an important gain from the Chicano rights movement.

"This wipes out 30 years of struggles by Chicano civil-rights activists to provide a base for workers to be self-sufficient or others to realize their ambitions," Acuna said. "The county was a little better than society as a whole in getting people to that point."

County-USC Medical Center, which would close under Chief Administrative Officer Reed's cost-cutting bid, is an especially large employer of women and minorities. More than 80% of its staff of 8,616 are minorities, and 70% are women.

Michael Bustamante, a spokesman for county Supervisor Gloria Molina, who opposes closing the hospital, said County-USC has been a leader in hiring female doctors. Eighty percent of the hospital's doctors, nurses and other professionals are women, and two-thirds are minorities, according to county statistics.

The hospital's record as an employer of minorities as well as a service provider to minority communities can't be overlooked, Bustamante said. "Its impact on women and minorities has to be considered in the overall mix of how we balance the budget," he said.

The hospital's future will not be decided for at least several weeks, while a five-member Health Crisis Task Force created by supervisors Tuesday looks for alternatives to closing the facility.

Faced with a $1.2-billion deficit, Reed has proposed cutting 18,000 county workers. Including part-time and temporary workers, the county has 88,000 employees.

While she believes her job is safe, Linda Dent, a clerk for the Treasurer-Tax Collector with 18 years of county experience, said slashing the county's work force could keep others from the opportunity for advancement she had through county work.

An African American who came to Los Angeles as a teen-ager from Monroe, La., Dent said she was turned down repeatedly for assembly line jobs while she was a single mother on welfare and a junior college student in the 1970s.

"Private industry was just that--private. They only let in who they wanted to, and they didn't want me because they thought a mother wouldn't give the job her full attention," Dent said. After being rejected for jobs at an eight-track tape factory and a lock factory, Dent was hired by the county in 1976 to check voter registration signatures.

She's been employed by the county ever since, and now earns $1,900 a month as a clerk in the Treasurer-Tax Collector's department.

The supervisors also on Tuesday unanimously passed a package of $257 million in cuts that would reduce spending by 20% in all but four departments: sheriff, coroner, probation and health services.

The final number of jobs cut will be decided when the supervisors pass their final budget later this summer. Herb Wesson, chief of staff for Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, said supervisors will consider an early retirement plan to ease some of the pain of inevitable staff cuts.

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