41 more layoff notices issued

COSTA MESA — The employment picture in Costa Mesa grew fuzzier Thursday, with city leaders initiating the second phase of its proposed outsourcing plan and issuing 41 new layoff notices because of employee seniority rights.

With the latest batch of notices, more than 50% of the city's workforce has been given a six-month notice that their jobs could be outsourced to a private company or to the county. The county positions are available for the city's firefighters, who could transition to the Orange County Fire Authority.

"It's like reliving this thing again," said Helen Nenadal, president of the Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. "Even though we knew this was coming up, it's not easy to accept because in our minds it's kind of crazy how this is all going down."

The city issued 124 notices in all Thursday, with 83 employees receiving word whether or not they were eligible to "bump" a less-senior employee from another position in their department so they could keep their jobs. That group had gotten the original notices March 17 as well.

The remaining 41 employees were told for the first time that they could be losing their jobs to the more senior workers, meaning that six months from Thursday they could be laid off. The total number of layoffs would still equal 213 if the proposed cuts went into effect, city officials said.

Workers with bumping rights have to notify human resources within five days if they want to displace another employee.

The layoff notices do not necessarily portend job losses.

In March, the City Council voted to issue the layoff notices ahead of studying which city services could be handled by outside companies for less. The move is part of the city's effort to offload workers' pensions, which are projected to become more expensive. Council members said they want to reinvest in city maintenance projects, among other things.

In light of the last round of layoffs, when city worker Huy Pham jumped to his death from City Hall on March 17 before receiving his notice, the city brought in counselors Thursday for anyone who wanted to talk.

Morale remains low within the city, workers say privately.

Though there's the possibility that some services could remain in-house, no one is betting on it, Nenadal said.

"There's no light at the end of the tunnel where this is going right now," she said. "Reality is hitting you in the face."

Organized labor continues to fight against the council's agenda. Over the last couple of months, people on both sides have raised the volume on the debate, launching community groups either for or against the layoffs.

Earlier this week, an open government watchdog group sent a letter to the city saying that the city's advisory panels, such as the budget working group that suggested the layoffs, were violating the Brown Act, the state open-meeting law. The city responded by saying most of the groups have concluded their work or will by next week.

On Thursday the Orange County Employees Assn. took the Brown Act argument further in its own letter to the city.

"The work product of that working group, including the recommendations made regarding outsourcing at the March 1, 2011, council meeting are thereby tainted by those violations, and any actions taken by the City Council in reliance on that work product and those recommendations are therefore void," the letter said.

The letter, sent by OCEA's general counsel Donald Drozd, calls for the city to rescind all the layoff notices.

"We're going to fight it to the end. We're not going to back down," Nenadal said of the OCEA's letter. "We have to go on hope. We can't just sit down and let them think they can do this and they're doing it the right way."

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