Apodaca: Will layoffs keep council awake at night?

March 25, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

In my long career as a journalist — much of it spent as a business reporter — I covered many stories involving job losses.

These stories inevitably contained lots of figures: the number of employees cut, percentage of workforce terminated, expected savings from payroll reductions.

The requisite press releases were always filled with euphemisms. Workers weren't fired; they were laid off. Companies didn't shrink; they downsized. Cutbacks were never the result of mistakes made; they were a response to competitive pressures.


But in the office cubicles and factory floors of the many businesses I visited, the truth could always be seen in the faces of the workers themselves.

It's not jobs that are cut. It's people.

So when the human cost of Costa Mesa's decision to ax nearly half the city's jobs became tragically apparent with the suicide of one of the pink-slipped workers last week, I was immediately transported back to those earlier times.

I remembered the fear, anger and feelings of betrayal among those whose livelihoods had been cast aside. I recall the bitterness of employees who believed that they had worked hard and done everything asked of them, only to find themselves out on the street because of choices made by others.

I recalled the autoworkers who begged me to hear them out after their factory closed. They had made numerous concessions to their employer, and in turn had received what they thought was a promise to keep them on despite the lure of cheaper operations elsewhere. Their despair seeped like oil through the empty carcass of the once-thriving factory that had represented their piece of the American dream.

I wonder if members of the Costa Mesa City Council had steeled themselves for such a reaction from the employees whose jobs they targeted for elimination in six months.

Council members said the cuts were necessitated by a budget shortfall and ballooning pension costs — problems shared by municipalities across the country. The city hopes to save money by outsourcing work to other government agencies and private contractors.

Costa Mesa's scorched-earth approach has received national attention. It has been praised as bold and innovative in some quarters, vilified as heartless and ineffectual in others.

Either way, it seems fair that the council should consider the following questions:

Was every other option thoroughly vetted before the decision was made to fire 200 people?

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