ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : O.C. Unions Told Layoffs Can Be Minimized by Early Retirements

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County budget-cutting officials told union representatives Friday that they have identified some 2,050 employees eligible for retirement, saying that any anticipated layoffs could be significantly reduced if many of those older workers chose to retire by Jan. 10.

At a lengthy meeting Friday evening, the county's management council also disclosed that it had originally wanted to cut the county's current budget by $70 million, but that they could devise only $40.2 million in reductions.

According to union leaders who attended the meeting, county management said that estimates of 800 to 1,000 layoffs were inaccurate. County officials said they have no targeted number of layoffs.

Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, County Sheriff Brad Gates and Health Care Director Tom Uram met with a dozen officers of three unions in an effort to appease organized labor, which has complained bitterly about the county not involving labor leaders in the decision-making process.

On Thursday, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to slash $40.2 million from the county's budget over the next six months. In approving the cutbacks, the county moved to suspend parts of its collective bargaining agreements, rescinding pay raises and overturning seniority rules. The plan calls for layoffs based on performance rather than length of service--a standard in labor agreements.

At Friday's meeting were officials of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees Union and the Operating Engineers, which combined represent about 2,000 county employees.

The Orange County Employees Assn., which represents about 11,000 of the county's 16,000 workers, was not invited to the meeting Friday. John H. Sawyer, association general manager, said Friday that he was seeking a meeting with county officials next week.

After Friday's session, union leaders said they were encouraged by assurances from the management council that labor would be involved in future strategy sessions. "We're going to take them on their word," said John Wyrough, executive director of AFSCME's Southern California District.

However, union leaders left open the possibility that they would challenge in court the county's plan to suspend bargaining agreements, a move the county said it could do during an emergency.

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