In California, 3,300 state workers are on notice for layoffs

Sacramento BeeSeptember 4, 2011 

The state has warned nearly 3,300 California state workers this year that their positions may disappear as the government grinds through a slow-motion layoff process that aims to shrink government over the next few years.

The notices, overwhelmingly concentrated in the Sacramento area so far, represent the initial wave of warnings that eventually will lead to several thousand state jobs lost.

Of the State Restriction of Appointment notices issued, 2,024 went to employees working in Sacramento County. Los Angeles County accounted for the next-highest number of potential layoffs with 800 notices going to workers there.

More are coming. Many departments haven't finished their civil service layoff plans. Departments staffed exclusively with appointed employees will simply vanish, since those workers have no civil service protections.

"We're probably about in the middle" of issuing layoff warnings, said Lynelle Jolley, spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration.

California is succumbing to the same budget pressures hammering public payrolls around the country. State and local governments lost 17,000 jobs last month, according to federal statistics, despite 22,000 Minnesota employees who came off the unemployment rolls in August after that state's government shutdown ended.

"California has to pay less per employee, have fewer employees or find more money to pay for what it has," said Pepperdine University political scientist Michael Shires.

Unions aren't willing to make more concessions, lawmakers didn't reach a tax deal "and there's no sign that there's more money coming any time soon," Shires said. "That leaves layoffs."

Historically, about one-third of state employees who receive a layoff warning letter actually lose their jobs. The state issues the excess notices hoping that the potentially affected workers will move on their own instead of risking a layoff.

Some will find other government work, either by taking jobs from colleagues with less seniority or filling one of the state's increasingly hard-to-find vacant slots. Some will leave for the private sector – or the unemployment line.

The ax is falling on departments both big and small. The state's 63,000-employee prison and parole agency has issued more than 2,100 warning notices. That doesn't include the 840 parole agents and parole support staff it plans to shed by September 2013 as it shifts their responsibilities to local governments.

Lawmakers also reduced the Department of Justice's budget by $71 million over the next two years. The targeted cuts virtually wipe out one DOJ unit that fights narcotics crime and another that investigates complex criminal cases, often alongside local authorities.

The department has issued 1,115 layoff warning notices, 261 of them to special agents. That's second only to state office technicians, who as a group have received 434 notices so far.

"This is a very painful process for our department," Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement emailed to The Bee, "and I am proud to be joined by many of our law enforcement partners in the fight to mitigate the impact of these cuts to the Department of Justice."

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