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December job cuts hit 1,780 in region

By   /   Sunday, January 11th, 2009  /   Comments Off on December job cuts hit 1,780 in region

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[Editor’s Note: Clarification appended below.]

Major private employers in the Tri-Counties cut 1,780 jobs from December through early January, more than 10 times the number of positions the region shed in the same period a year ago.

The increase in job cuts was found in a Business Times review of state and local data and represents one of the most significant downturns in employment in recent decades. The cuts do not include layoffs and furloughs at state agencies, local governments, school boards or public univertities — all laboring under California’s budget crunch.

“Definitely we are all seeing a restructuring of the economy, and employers from all sectors are downsizing,” said Christy Norton, a Ventura County Human Services Agency program coordinator who works with those who have lost their jobs to help them retrain and find new ones.

Some of the Tri-Counties’ most prominent employers – Oxnard-based Haas Automation and Thousand Oaks-based Amgen, among others – account for hundreds of the cuts.

The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa alone shed more than 700 positions, according to state records, at least 37 of them in accounting, engineering and the resort’s executive office. Nearly 350 housekeeping and food service employees lost jobs at the resort, according to state records.

More than 560 other job losses stemmed from troubled retailers Mervyn’s, which closed down six tri-county stores, and Circuit City, which shuttered its Santa Barbara location.

Ventura County has been hit the worst, losing 1,438 jobs in December and the beginning of January, up from 163 lost jobs a year earlier. In Santa Barbara County, businesses cut 261 jobs compared to nine last year, and in San Luis Obispo County, firms shed 81 jobs after losing none the year before.

The figures represent a mixture of full-time, part-time and temporary positions. They come from a Business Times analysis of state records provided under a law requiring businesses to give advanced notice of mass job cuts.

Tri-County companies almost certainly have shed more jobs than the state-provided figures indicate because the state filings represent only firms with at least 75 workers.

In many cases, workers who lost their jobs were given a month or more of notice. In each county, workforce investment officials have been working with businesses to give dislocated workers information and help them find new jobs and acquire new skills.

Later this month, Oxnard-based machine-tool maker Haas Automation will end work assignments for about 200 temporary employees. The company employs about 1,150 full-time workers and supplies the ailing automobile industry, among others.

Manufacturing is in a slump, and Haas Automation spokesman Scott Rathburn said the firm has long used temporary workers to augment its workforce and accommodate expansions and contractions in sales. The firm notified affected workers in late November, Rathburn said.

“When the demand for our product goes down, we don’t want to keep the plant running at full speed,” Rathburn said. “We scaled down our production lines to adjust for what our sales are, and as such we don’t require as large a workforce.”

Noting that Haas Automation is a debt-free company, Rathburn said the firm will hire again when sales support it.

“When the economy does turn around, we will be in a very good place to ramp back up,” he said.

Thousand Oaks-based Amgen cut 64 positions, according to state records. Amgen spokeswoman Sarah Rockwell said the company outsourced some of its information systems work to IBM, part of a companywide effort to make Amgen more efficient.

“The vast majority of staff that were affected received positions with IBM,” Rockwell said.

In Santa Barbara County, mining firm World Minerals – one of the world’s largest suppliers of raw minerals used in filtration systems for beer-making and swimming pools, among other applications – shed 39 jobs in Lompoc in December. The layoffs part of a larger elimination of nearly 200 total jobs in 2008.

Company spokesman Jim Kuykendall said the firm modernized the Lompoc mine to make it cleaner, more efficient and more competitive in a global economy that pits his company against worldwide competitors.

“The changes necessary to modernize the Lompoc facility had the unfortunate result of necessitating layoffs,” Kuykendall said in an e-mail interview with the Business Times. “[The company’s] management takes these decisions very seriously and endeavored to make communications with employees as clear as possible and as early as possible to ensure that they were informed. While we regret having to lay off some employees, it was necessary if the Lompoc facility is to not only survive, but also to become a facility that can remain competitive in the years to come.”

The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa shed the most jobs of any single company, eliminating more than 700 jobs in at least two rounds of cuts. The resort did not return several phone calls and messages from the Business Times requesting comment.

It’s unclear whether the resort’s job cuts were seasonal or related to larger economic forces, though it made no such cuts in 2007.

Norton, the Ventura County Human Services program coordinator, could confirm only that she worked with the resort to provide services to employees affected by a smaller round of cuts. “We conducted the typical and usual planning session with their director of human resources,” Norton said.

Norton said the employers she’s worked with generally have shown deep interest in helping laid-off employees find new jobs.

“They have a great degree of concern for their employees,” Norton said. “They’re actively looking for community resources for their employees.”

Norton’s office and others like it in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties provide computers, fax machines and access to online resources and funding for short-term vocational training to help affected workers find new jobs.

“The job market has drastically changed,” Norton said. “For dislocated workers, this can have vast implications – they may not have looked for a job in 10 years.”

[Clarification – Jan. 23, 2009: Because of a misunderstanding between state officials and the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, state officials listed 690 workers at the resort had lost their jobs, a figure the Business Times reported after multiple attempts to reach the resort for notification. The workers were not laid off; they were furloughed for 10 days in early December. State officials confirmed they are revising the state’s public records.]


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