Thursday, March 24, 2011

In California City, Layoffs for Nearly Half the Staff

COSTA MESA, Calif. —To solve a looming pension crisis and budget gap, city officials said, they needed to take drastic action. Now everyone agrees on one thing: they did.

Nearly half of this city’s workers were told late last week that, come September, they would probably be out of a job. Nearly every city department will be eliminated. More than a dozen tasks will be outsourced, including graffiti removal, firefighting, building maintenance and street cleaning.

Unlike the drama that played out over several months in Madison, Wis., the battle over public workers in this bustling suburb of upscale shopping malls in the heart of Orange County is happening at lightning speed.

The letters went out last week to more than 200 of the city’s roughly 450 workers, sending many into a panic as they scurried to look for new jobs. The move will, in one great swoop, reinvent municipal government here, and perhaps lead the way for other cities to adopt similar plans.

Emotions in Costa Mesa, already running high, grew more intense after one city worker, summoned to receive his pink slip, instead climbed five stories to the roof of City Hall and jumped to his death. A small side entrance to the building is now decorated with supermarket bouquets and tall, white candles, a memorial to the 29-year-old man, who had worked for the city’s maintenance department for four years.

The layoffs have deeply divided this small city, just over the coast from affluent Newport Beach. While Costa Mesa has long been a politically conservative enclave, much like the other wealthy suburbs that surround it, the move to privatize so many city services strikes many residents as a harsh political tactic, meant to remake the city into a national model in the battle over public employee unions.
Read the rest here.

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