ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : Laid-Off Workers Face Supervisors, List Woes
For the first time since officials ordered deep cuts in the county’s payroll, newly laid-off employees appeared before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to talk about the home mortgages and child support payments they will no longer be able to meet.
Amid the tales of financial woe also came accusations of favoritism and discrimination, and hints that lawsuits may soon follow.
“It was not right that I was chosen for dismissal, and not the people hired after me. I feel I have been discriminated against,” said Manucheh Yazdi, a 62-year-old research analyst in the County Administrative Office who was laid off after 14 years of service.
“I and my family will be forced into difficult times, and I may lose my home. Considering my age, it may be a struggle to find another job,” Yazdi added.
Yazdi, whose 32-year-old son also addressed the board, told supervisors that “filing for bankruptcy does not give the county license to do away with equal opportunity.”
About a dozen laid-off employees and their family members attended the board meeting after gathering at the Orange County Employees Assn., where they had filled out questionnaires designed to detect any discrimination in the layoff process.
“We think many of (the layoffs) are suspect,” said John H. Sawyer, the association’s general manager. Sawyer said a pattern of apparent age discrimination has emerged, and association attorneys are also looking for signs that workers were targeted for layoffs because of union activity, gender or ethnicity.
“We have to examine whether or not there are any violations of state and federal law,” he said. “Discrimination suits are very likely to come out of this.”
James Easley, who has worked for the county’s General Services Agency as a telecommunications specialist for five years, approached the podium holding a 1993 letter of commendation for helping the county save nearly $300,000 in erroneous telephone billings.
“I respectfully submit you let the wrong worker go,” he told supervisors as more than a dozen other laid-off workers listened.
A GSA employee who worked there more than nine years said less-experienced people were kept on in jobs that he would have been happy to fill. Tony Esparza, 51, implored the board to change its layoff guidelines and respect seniority in accordance with now-suspended labor agreements.
“I’m five months short of applying for extended medical benefits,” said Esparza, who would have received medical benefits for his family if he had reached his 10-year mark of service with the county. Now he must pay prohibitive amounts of money to keep family members on his health plan.
“My family’s welfare will be affected,” Esparza told the board as his wife and 23-year-old son sat in the audience.
Tanya Spencer said she lost her job in private industry in October. On Jan. 4, her husband, Robert, was laid off after 22 years of service at the GSA. Now, the couple is putting their Trabuco Canyon home up for sale, and Robert will file court papers by the end of this week to reduce the child support he pays for three sons from a previous marriage.
She asked supervisors to imagine themselves in her position.
“You have a cushion of about four months. Then no more house payment, no more car payment,” she said. “Traumatic? You bet. Your whole world has changed overnight.”
The former employees’ comments came after supervisors Chairman Gaddi H. Vasquez outlined his goals for 1995, focusing on the need to reach out to the public for advice in reinventing government. Notably absent from those remarks, Robert Spencer told the board, was any reference to workers.
Meanwhile, some county workers who received layoff notices last week learned that they will instead be reassigned to other agencies.
Karen McMahon, a nine-year GSA employee who had planned to pull her children out of private school, learned late Monday that she will be rehired by the Social Services Agency in a lateral move that preserves her salary and benefits.
“I was really, really pleased to be able to keep my insurance intact and my retirement intact. . . . I’m almost in disbelief.”
It was unclear Tuesday how many agencies are rehiring, but an employee of the county-run outplacement assistance center said she has been informing laid-off workers that there “may be some limited opportunities for reassignment in agencies handling public safety, health and welfare.”
The news brought mixed reactions from laid-off employees and labor activists. While they praised the rehires, they raised the same concerns about favoritism that layoffs have sparked.
“If the county’s rehiring, I think that’s great,” said Jan Gimber, 56, who was laid off from her secretary’s job at GSA after 23 years with the county. “But if it’s not being done in the order of seniority, then rehires are not being done with any more discretion than terminations were.”