Orange County officials began handing out termination notices Monday to 210 social services employees whose jobs were eliminated because of a recession-related drop in tax revenue.
Among those let go were social workers assigned to child and elder abuse cases and eligibility technicians who process claims for public assistance, said TerryLynn Fisher, spokeswoman for the Social Services Agency.
Orange County's Board of Supervisors authorized the job reductions last month because of an anticipated $20-million drop this year in state funding. Many of the services that the county provides are paid for by the state.
Workers were taken aside and told that their last day on the job would be Jan. 19, Fisher said.
"As you can imagine, people are devastated," Fisher said. "Even for people who knew they were going to be laid off, it was still hard.
"It's hard for everyone. Nobody wants to see their colleagues lose their jobs."
The layoffs have been met with stiff resistance from employee unions, which have argued that the county should look elsewhere for cuts.
Union officials have criticized plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on remodeling the supervisors' offices and on executive perks.
Employees targeted for layoffs protested last month by marching to the supervisors' offices in Santa Ana and chanting, "Chop at the top!"
"They are distraught and enraged at the same time. They can't understand how abused children are going to be put at risk while the board remodels its office and collects car allowances," said Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn.
County managers are scheduled to vote today to defer their scheduled 2% pay raise, which had been criticized by union officials as unnecessary and unwise at a time when employees are losing jobs.
Karen Davis, executive director of the Orange County Managers Assn., said that postponing the raises could save the county more than $1 million.
No decision has been made on how long to delay the raises.
Employees who received termination notices Monday were counseled about how to continue receiving medical insurance and encouraged to reapply for their jobs when the state's economic picture improved.
"It's sad because in my opinion, the county has made a knee-jerk reaction," said Herman Martinez, president of an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local that represents the welfare eligibility workers.
"I haven't seen evidence that the county has horrible financial problems. The county has a huge reserve they didn't tap into to keep workers servicing their welfare clients."