From: LA Times
By: Susannah Rosenblatt, 1/10/2009
An Orange County judge Friday rejected a request by a county employees union to halt the layoffs of nearly 200 social service employees, many of whom were notified this week that they would lose their jobs.
The cuts, a consequence of a steep drop in state funding, will proceed as scheduled, with some social workers, supervisors, secretaries and welfare eligibility technicians working their last day Jan. 19.
“We’re disappointed, but we’re undeterred,” Lisa Major, assistant general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., said of the court decision. “This is important enough for us to keep going, and we will keep going.”
Attorneys for the union argued that the county did not adequately demonstrate the need for the layoffs and that the cuts would cause irreparable harm. Ken Yuwiler and Richard Levine, representing the union, also questioned why some of the $300 million in the county’s general fund could not help prevent job losses.
Judge Robert J. Moss ruled that managerial decisions were best left to county supervisors, rather than union officials, and that workers can object to the layoffs through the union’s grievance process. The union served the social service agency earlier this week with a grievance in regard to the layoffs.
Deputy County Counsel Leon Page argued to Moss that the longer the county union delays the layoff process, the more social service workers are in danger of losing their jobs, causing a “more painful impact to the public.” Outside court, Page added that general fund money is needed to run the district attorney’s office and Sheriff’s Department, among other public safety offices.
The employees’ union, which represents 13,500 Orange County workers, has blasted county supervisors about the job cuts, the worst since the county’s bankruptcy in 1994. Union officials argue that spending on such items as executive perks and a county hall renovation should be eliminated before jobs.
With the nation in economic straits, the social service downsizing comes just as demand for food stamps and cash assistance is rising, said Michael Riley, chief deputy director of the county’s Social Service Agency.
“Morale is low,” he said, “because there’s a lot of anxiety for those that are leaving, those that are left behind.”
On Monday, 101 probationary hires were given pink slips; 89 additional workers were also laid off, though these employees have the option to “bump” lower-level workers with similar jobs out of their positions. About 4,000 remaining social service workers must take two weeks off without pay.
“A lot of staff that we have, have . . . survivors’ guilt,” Riley said.
The agency, which receives 89% of its funding from the state and federal governments, is grappling with a $33-million shortfall this fiscal year.
The county still faces a lawsuit from OCEA; the two sides will return to court Jan. 27.