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O.C. to trigger layoffs Dec. 29

December 16, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer | Pfeifer is a Times staff writer.

Orange County officials plan to deliver layoff notices to social services workers in two weeks and are preparing to proceed with further job cuts even as union officials argue that the county should search for alternatives.

Termination notices will be given to 210 social services employees Dec. 29, giving the workers two weeks' notice before they lose their jobs, county spokeswoman Pat Markley said Monday.

An additional 4,000 social services employees will begin two weeks of mandatory unpaid leave in February, Markley said.

The layoffs and furloughs are the result of an anticipated deep reduction in state funding of social services programs, county officials said last week.

About one-third of the targeted workers process public assistance claims for the needy and unemployed, said Herman Martinez, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local in Orange County.

"The sad reality is we may one day see our co-workers in the lobby applying for benefits," he said. "There's not exactly an abundance of jobs out there, the way the economy is going."

Because the layoffs will be based on seniority, many of the workers already know their jobs are in jeopardy, Martinez said. He is familiar with that fear: Martinez was laid off after the county's 1994 bankruptcy but got his job back a few years later.

"All the labor groups have reached out to the county and said, 'Let's sit down and find ways to cut costs and keep workers off of the unemployment lines.' There's no indication they're looking at solutions that will reduce the number of layoffs," Martinez said.

Earlier this month, the Orange County Employees Assn., the county's largest union, suggested that each of the county's more than 17,000 workers voluntarily take unpaid leave to help the county cut costs and avoid layoffs.

But the county said such savings could not be shared between departments, meaning that forced reductions in the cash-strapped Social Services Agency were necessary.

The agency has been the hardest-hit county department because it relies heavily on state funding, which is expected to be cut by tens of millions of dollars.

Nick Berardino, general manager of the employees union, also suggested that the county cut perks for executives and rescind a planned pay raise for county managers, but he has been unable to get the county to reduce the number of planned layoffs.

On Monday, he questioned why the county is going through with a $327,000 remodeling project on the fifth floor of the Hall of Administration, which houses the offices of county supervisors.

Markley said Monday that the project, approved in November, was necessary to bring the building in compliance with the fire code.

"That they would remodel the supervisors' offices at a time they're laying off workers is absolutely incredible," Berardino said.

"But it goes along with the way this whole layoff thing has been handled: poorly and not very thoughtfully."

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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