More Than 200 OC Workers Pink-Slipped

More than 200 workers who help process requests for food stamps and other public assistance in Orange County are being told they are laid off on Monday, with layoffs effective Jan. 19, officials said.

The layoffs, now expected to affect 213 workers at Orange County's Social Services Agency, were announced last month and scheduled to take effect on Dec. 29 but were delayed until after the holidays.
Union leaders told the Board of Supervisors last month that the services provided by eligibility workers are needed now more than ever as more people fall on hard times.

Brooke De Baca, a spokeswoman for Orange County, said employees will be notified on an individual basis in a process expected to take much of the day.

County officials trimmed $30 million from the 2008-09 in November and warned that layoffs could be next. They cited drops in tax revenue, vehicle license fees and money from the state, which pays for the eligibility workers on a "pass through'' basis.
Union officials responded by asserting that the stream of state money for the workers may be halted but eventually is remitted to local governments.

Local government officials, however, said that when state funding sources drop, the county is left in no position to compensate for it with money in the general fund, which provides for such services as public safety.
Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, said 160 of the affected workers belong to his union. The others are with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Orange County local.

Berardino has called on the Orange County Board of Supervisors to find money to pay the workers by trimming costs in other areas, such as the $765 monthly car allowance for board members and managers. He also has complained about the $327,000 remodeling of the supervisors' lobby reception area.
County officials have defended the remodeling as necessary, saying fire inspectors cited the county for failure to have proper access to stairwells from the lobby. That could be resolved by leaving two doors unlocked, but, according to Moorlach, that would defeat the security system in place.

In addition to the current layoffs, the county has also called for 4,000 social service workers to take a mandatory two weeks off without pay beginning in February, but that is still under negotiations, De Baca said.

Bernardino said members of his union were asked to vote on whether they are willing to take a furlough, and the results are expected today, along with a report from Gary Burton, a now-retired county chief financial officer who has been looking at the budget to identify possible spending cuts.
Berardino has also called for a committee of independent auditors to look into how the county's money is spent, with an eye to cutting waste.

Moorlach has said the kind of trimming advocated by the union would not provide the money needed and added that Burton "looked at the county's budget real hard last time'' in 2006 ``and he retired."

"I'm not expecting anything from Gary," Moorlach said. "The budget isn't any rosier than it was then."

   Moorlach said the county must pay out $80 million a year in bankruptcy debt, which will continue until 2016.

"It's not like we're floating in any cushion of revenue," Moorlach said.

Last month, the county's chief probation officer announced her intent to lay off 58 probation workers while closing 92 beds at a juvenile camp. The day that pink slips will got out to those workers has not yet been determined.

The county's projected layoffs are the largest since Orange County's bankruptcy in 1994.

Berardino said several workers who receive pink slips will be available at OCEA offices on Tuesday to talk about their plight.

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