State workers picked for layoffs try to stay focused


POSTED: Thursday, August 06, 2009

A day after 1,100 state workers learned they could be out of jobs by Thanksgiving, public employees battled feelings of fear, anger, anxiety and sadness as they came to work yesterday.

“;It's really difficult to focus on our job,”; said Nina Sacks, a recently hired social worker in the Child Welfare Services Branch in the state Department of Human Services, who was among those receiving a layoff notice. “;We do our job because we're there for a reason, and it's an important reason, but the morale is very low.”;

Gov. Linda Lingle sent the layoff notices Monday, informing employees that their jobs are being eliminated as the state tries to make up a $786 million budget shortfall.

The final number of jobs and savings that would be gained through layoffs is unknown, because senior union members have “;bumping rights”;—the ability to knock out less senior workers in the same job classification.

“;On a personal level, it's very frightening because there's not a lot of jobs out there,”; Sacks said. “;Whether it's in the private sector or the public sector, there's not a lot of social work positions available.”;

Her colleague, Ipo Marasco, was not among those receiving layoff notices, but is a recent hire and worries she could be bumped out of a job.

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Both Sacks, 28, and Marasco, 31, received master's degrees in social work from the University of Hawaii in May, under a two-year collaborative program that prepared them to take on their roles with the state agency soon after graduating. They were hired June 15.

“;The reality is, I'll probably end up collecting unemployment and going on welfare to support my two children,”; Marasco said. “;I don't see how that is going to help Hawaii's economy.”;

Sacks said she is more concerned about the long-term implications of cutting jobs in the branch where she and Marasco work. The social workers investigate cases of child mistreatment, abuse and neglect.

“;We have more families that are in high states of stress and are coming into the system, and we're going to have fewer workers that will be able to address their needs,”; Sacks said. “;Outcomes for maltreated children are very poor when you don't have intervention.

“;I honesty think this (layoffs) is the worst decision they could have made. I think it's going to be devastating for the state.”;

Lingle has maintained she would prefer furloughs for state employees of three days a month, equal to a 14 percent pay cut, but a judge blocked her from implementing the furloughs without first negotiating with public worker unions.

As negotiations have stalled, Lingle says the state's financial crisis has become dire, forcing her to begin the layoff process.

An employee at Kulani Correctional Facility, who asked not to be identified, said a nearly three-decade career in corrections work will be derailed because of the layoff notice received this week. Because of the worker's seniority, it is likely the employee will stay with the state, but the feeling of being rejected or abandoned remains.

“;We are state employees. We don't feel we deserve to be spared and we understand the state is in dire financial condition, but the governor has not been negotiating in good faith,”; the veteran state worker said.

Sacks, as union leaders have charged, feels the administration has not bargained fairly.

“;We agree that there needs to be a shared sacrifice,”; she said. “;But to take it off of one group of people—to expect state workers to make up this burden—is just not fair.”;


Star-Bulletin reporter Richard Borreca contributed to this report.