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Laid-Off County Workers Begin Downsizing Dreams : Bankruptcy: Victims of municipal investment crisis put plans on hold. Some worry about making ends meet.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jan Gimber, 56, is already turning to her son for more help in paying the mortgage. And a long-awaited trip to a sports car race in Phoenix later this month is out of the question, unless she can find someone to share the expenses.

Diane Bouchard’s layoff notice, which came after 14 years of service to Orange County, put her family dream into deep freeze.

The 34-year-old General Services Administration employee and her husband, also a county employee, sold their home in December and moved into an apartment while they shopped for a bigger house in which to raise their two small children.

“Now we’re going to have to buy down. It’s scary,” said Bouchard, who gathered with other laid-off workers Friday to fill out unemployment applications and leaf through job notices at a makeshift county assistance center.

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As more of their colleagues received pink slips Friday--and other county workers anticipated the worst--the 72 employees laid off from the General Services Administration earlier this week pondered the depth of their predicament and began the new routine of job-hunting.

By some estimates, more than 800 county employees could be thrown out of work by the biggest municipal fiscal crisis in U.S. history.

“The last money I have coming in other than unemployment stops on Jan. 19, and I have a very bad habit--it’s called eating,” said Gimber, a secretary who showed up at the newly opened outplacement assistance center Friday with a three-page draft resume detailing 23 years of county service.

“I have house payments to make,” she said, “and unemployment is not enough to live on any more than my retirement would be enough to live on.”

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Gimber has made no secret of her bitterness at being laid off. Wednesday, she was placed on administrative leave and given one hour to pack her belongings and walk out into the pouring rain.

“They said, ‘You have an hour, hour and a half to pack up and leave. Turn in your keys and your badge,’ ” said Gimber, who like everyone laid off this week will be paid for 14 more days. Gimber and her co-workers say they believe they were asked to leave immediately because of security concerns. Department supervisors could not be reached for comment.

Gimber’s data systems unit, which had overseen the operation of the county’s main computers and the development of new computer systems, was almost entirely disbanded. But Gimber, a senior secretary, believes she was let go in part because she was a longtime critic of her department’s operations.

“I’m hurt that the people I have worked for for 23 years threw me out the door,” said Gimber, who has closed herself in her bedroom and wept many times over the past two days. “I don’t have any choice but to accept this as another challenge. It’s kind of like getting a divorce after 20 years of marriage.”

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Gimber shares a Garden Grove home with her son, his girlfriend and their five children from previous marriages. “They’re going to be paying a heftier share of (the expenses) now,” she said. “My life is changing drastically.”

Friday, a group of Gimber’s co-workers gathered outside the job assistance center to swap stories. They worried about one co-worker who supports four children, all younger than 11.

For many who had worked their way into their posts through years with the county, the layoffs mark the first time they must craft resumes and face the job market.

“I’ve worked my way up here, so I don’t have college degrees,” said Bouchard, who began working for the county at age 20. “That’s where it really hurts. I’ve never actually done a resume.”

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Friday, Bouchard spoke with workers at the outplacement center about private-sector opportunities and the chances of succeeding with a home-based business. The county center offers word processors, resource guides, job counseling and listings of local and national job opportunities.

The mother of a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, Bouchard has already laid off her child-care worker, creating another link in the chain of economic havoc caused by the county’s bankruptcy.

“I called her Wednesday afternoon. I told her, ‘I’m laid off, and I’m afraid you are too,’ ” said Bouchard. “I get a little angry, because the (members of the) Board of Supervisors are still driving around in their county cars. I’m seriously considering taking a family portrait and sending it to each of them.”

Gloria Sharpless, 60, started with the county as a library assistant more than 13 years ago and worked her way into a job with the General Services Administration. Now, she finds herself suddenly on the job market just a few years before she had hoped to retire.

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“I can’t really imagine knocking on doors, but I guess that’s what I’ll have to do,” she said, wiping away tears.

“We’ve saved and saved and saved for a new driveway,” she said. “The work was supposed to start on the 9th. Now we’re going to have to put that on hold until I find something. We’re not going to be out on the street, but trying to plan for the future and for retirement--they just took the (supports) right out from under us.”


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