By Rick Orlov and C.J. Lin, Staff Writers | Los Angeles Daily News
30 June 2010 - Thousands of government workers throughout Los Angeles could begin losing their jobs this week with the start of the new fiscal year, even as officials make last-minute bids to save positions through further service cuts, tax hikes and union concessions.
Up to 4,300 jobs could be cut next fiscal year from local government agencies, including the city, county and schools, if officials and unions fail to reach deals to slash spending.
Los Angeles Unified School District alone could shed up to 2,500 jobs this year, although that number is expected to fluctuate through the fall as officials negotiate with unions and monitor the state revenue picture.
Among those who have already fallen victim to the district's budget woes is Steve Nairin, who was a fifth-grade teacher at San Jose Elementary School in Mission Hills last year.
Nairin received a pink slip in March, but has been offered a long-term substitute position at another local school.
The father of three boys, each younger than 5 years old, said having a temporary job is better than nothing, but his pay will be less than half of what he made as a full-time teacher.
"There are big-time concerns," Nairin said. "My wife is not working and I have three young boys at home. My concern is being able to make ends meet for them."
Workers throughout the region are facing similar anxieties.
At the Los Angeles city level, officials and union leaders were engaged inlast-minute negotiations Tuesday to try to avoid the immediate layoff of 372 city workers starting Thursday.
A hard line
Several City Council members – led by Richard Alarcón and Paul Koretz – were fighting to delay the layoffs until October, hoping enough revenue will come in later to city coffers to save their jobs.
But Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and several other council members drew a hard line to go ahead with the layoffs to show the unions how serious the issue is and extract concessions in the current contract.
In adopting its $6.07 billion budget for 2010-11, the Los Angeles City Council said the city will need to lay off at least 761 workers – and possibly 1,000 more, depending on revenue from the lease of city-owned garages.
The city has said it needs to get $51 million in concessions to avert immediate layoffs and another $57 million by the end of the year to keep the additional 1,000 workers.
Councilman Dennis Zine, one of the members of the Executive Employee Relations Committee that is involved with the negotiations, said the issue is complicated because unions last year agreed to forego raises to prevent layoffs.
"There is a cost to the city if we lay off workers," Zine said. "Last year, they agreed to pass on raises if there were no layoffs. If we lay off these workers we have to pay those raises."
More than 300 workers at the city's public libraries have already been laid off even as the City Council on Tuesday ordered a ballot measure drafted for a $39 parcel tax to fund libraries.
The budget cuts are also forcing libraries to close a second day each week - Mondays - beginning July 18. Opening hours have been shortened on remaining days.
Some librarians across the city have been wearing pink slips with the names of coworkers who had been laid off until the union could send them black armbands.
"It's just very sad," said West Hills resident Doris Lichter, whose children go to the Woodland Hills branch several times a week. "The educational portion of everything is being cut."
A total of 828 workers are left to staff the city's libraries after 328 were laid off this month based on seniority.
Carmen Nigro, who curated the science and technology section at Central Library, was one of them.
"I hate to see it just gutted and desecrated," Nigro said. "There's a lot of harm being done in terms of service to the community."
Although Nigro had worked as a part-time messenger clerk at the Sherman Oaks branch since 2005, she didn't become a full-time employee until September 2008. She was one of the hundreds whose last day on the job was June 17 although she had worked in the system for five years.
'Too early to predict'
Los Angeles County, which employs more than 100,000 people, is not planning any layoffs at this time, as officials look at savings through other methods, including a target of saving $115 million through a joint labor-management effort.
But officials are still concerned about the possibility that the state could withhold even more money from the county as lawmakers look to close a $19 billion budget shortfall. The county estimates it could lose up to an additional $1.25 billion once the state budget is approved.
"We are still very concerned about the budgetary actions the state might take," said county Deputy Chief Executive Officer Brence Culp. "And whenever we know what those are we'll have to respond accordingly, but it's too early to predict the outcome of those actions yet."
The Los Angeles County Office of Education, a state-funded public agency that is associated with but not part of the county government system, will see some reductions. On Thursday, LACOE is expected to eliminate about 70 of 397 positions, including teaching posts, in its Division of Alternative Education. The division runs community day schools and other alternative schools throughout the county.
Deals made to save jobs
LAUSD, facing a deficit of about $640 million for the 2010-11 school year, is looking at laying off 682 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians and about 1,800 nonteaching employees such as janitors and office workers.
But that is an improvement from the 6,300 jobs that the district was considering cutting earlier this year, and officials say the current figure could continue to change before the start of the school year.
To save jobs, the district struck a deal with local unions that called for 12 furlough days – and a shorter school calendar – over the next two years, restoring about 2,000 positions.
The district saved additional jobs and programs through increases in attendance, spending cuts and some additional state funding.
For example, originally district officials expected to cut elementary arts and music programs in half but scaled back the cut to only a third. Also, the number of schools that will be closed dropped from 11 to 3.
Anne Young-Havens, LAUSD's interim deputy personnel director, said exactly which workers will lose their jobs is still unclear. Part of the problem is that while some jobs have been eliminated, some have been bought back by local schools during their local budgeting process.
Young-Havens also said that the district is still negotiating with employee unions, and those negotiations could also result in additional jobs being saved or spared.