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O.C. plans more layoffs; workers object

The county says it will cut 60 more jobs, and 1,000 employees urge supervisors to find alternatives to layoffs.

December 24, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer

Faced with a gaping budget deficit, Orange County officials disclosed plans Tuesday to lay off nearly 60 Probation Department employees and to start releasing some juvenile criminal suspects rather than holding them in juvenile hall.

Word of the cutbacks came the same day that 1,000 angry workers stormed the Orange County Hall of Administration to protest previously announced plans to lay off 210 social services employees.

The social services cuts stem from a steep reduction in state funding that county officials said left them with no option but to eliminate jobs. In addition to the layoffs, the county has disclosed plans to require 4,000 social services employees to take two weeks off without pay next year.

Chanting "Chop at the top!" members of the Orange County Employees Assn. and other government unions filled the fifth-floor lobby outside the offices of the Board of Supervisors in Santa Ana and implored them to search for alternatives to layoffs.

Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County employees union, delivered a letter to supervisors asking them to cut perks for managers, including car allowances and planned pay raises, to save jobs.

At one point, the chanting became so loud that Darlene Bloom, the clerk of the Board of Supervisors, confronted Berardino and told him the demonstration was causing a disruption to county workers.

"We do have business going on. Keep it down," she said.

"There's no more important business than this," Berardino said, leading his troops in thunderous chants critical of the planned layoffs.

A few minutes later, Berardino squared off with Mario Mainero, chief of staff for Supervisor John Moorlach and suggested that the county could have avoided some of the layoffs if it had not spent more than $300,000 to remodel the supervisors' lobby.

"While they're putting out single moms with families, look what they've done here. They're going to make this the most beautiful lobby in the state of California for the Board of Supervisors," Berardino said.

Mainero accused Berardino of misleading employees and failing to note that the county launched the remodeling project after Santa Ana fire inspectors cited the county for failing to have proper access to stairwells from the lobby.

"You're misusing the facts, and you know it," Mainero said.

Echoing previous statements from Orange County Executive Officer Thomas Mauk, Mainero told Berardino that the social services cuts stem directly from a reduction in state funding. When the state stops paying the county to administer public assistance, it has no choice but to lay off workers, he said.

Among the workers targeted for layoffs are eligibility technicians, who help process claims for food stamps and other public assistance, and social workers who assist the needy and abused.

"It's plain old heartbreaking. We have people being laid off when our lines are going to be going out the door," said Tina Ewanko, an eligibility worker and board member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local in Orange County.

"We're going to have people leaving with a pink slip and coming back with an application," she said.

Kevin Tran, an eligibility worker and married father of a 3-year-old boy, said he's worried that he might be among the workers laid off next month.

"I have only three years' [seniority]. It's not fair. They should cut from the top. They make so much more money," Tran said. "Before we let people go, we have to cut other expenses."

The Probation Department was the second Orange County agency to announce layoff plans. It is going to release 58 employees early next year to help fill an $8-million gap caused by a decrease in federal funding and the fact that employees turnover -- an area where government can save money by not filling open jobs -- is lower than normal, said Colleene Preciado, the county's chief probation officer.

The county intends to reduce capacity at Los Pinos Conservation Camp from 156 to 64, meaning that more juvenile crime suspects will be released to their homes while they await court hearings, Preciado said. The planned layoffs include 37 juvenile correctional officers, she said. On Tuesday, the county held about 860 juveniles, both awaiting hearings and serving sentences.

Probation officials intend to monitor juvenile suspects using global positioning satellite technology, something that has worked well with adult probationers, Preciado said. In addition, the department will screen juvenile suspects to determine which are best suited for release. Those charged with violent crimes, sex crimes or with gang affiliations probably will not be released, she said.

"There are going to be difficult decisions," Preciado said. "We only have so many beds. I'm confident we'll do the best we possibly can do. We need those beds, absolutely, and the second I can get them back I will."

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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