Hundreds of state workers lose jobs as calendar turns

Posted July 1, 2011 6:29 p.m. EDT
Updated July 1, 2011 7:09 p.m. EDT

State budget

— With the start of a new fiscal year Friday, hundreds of state workers found themselves unemployed.

The $19.7 billion budget that lawmakers passed recently over Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto included cuts to every state agency, leading to extensive layoffs at the end of Thursday.

More than 600 workers in cabinet-level departments lost their jobs, with dozens more in departments outside the executive branch, including education, agriculture and justice. Another 170 vacant positions in cabinet-level departments were eliminated in the budget.

"It is tough emotionally. It saddens me tremendously," said Robin Jenkins, chief operating officer of the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The halls of the Juvenile Justice office on Hammond Road were eerily quiet Friday, with many work spaces dark.

Overnight, 266 positions were eliminated in the department. The 120 people who lost their jobs included the school superintendent, nurses, social workers and human resources staff.

Although the people are gone, piles of work remain.

"We're working on some staff development," Jenkins said. "When you lose 15 percent of your workforce but you still have 100 percent of the work, the expectation may outstrip your ability to deliver."

The job cuts are across state government. The Department of Revenue lost 91 employees and another 84 vacant positions. The Department of Correction lost 81 workers, while the Department of Crime and Public Safety lost 46, including 19 from the Highway Patrol.

"It's going to be tough, and we're going to be stretched," said First Sgt. Jeff Gordon, spokesman for the Highway Patrol.

State budget writers had to balance a budget with a projected $2.5 billion shortfall, and they did it without raising taxes. They said they wanted to streamline government and cut what they called excessive spending.

Hundreds more state workers are expected to lose their jobs over the next year.

Each worker in the reduction in force, or RIF, was given 30 days' notice and will be eligible for four months of severance and one year of benefits.

In a matter of hours, department heads said, they lost years of knowledge and experience.

"Some of the people we lost have been with the department 30, 33, 34 years. They knew our history (and were) great problem-solvers," Jenkins said.

Officials also noted that, behind each job cut is a person with a story – and likely a family.

"One of the folks being RIFed in my agency has cancer, and that individual will be confronted with no job, no employment and having to deal with this very tragic illness," said Dee Freeman, secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.