COSTA MESA, Calif. - On March 17, 29-year-old Huy Pham, a city maintenance worker, jumped off the roof of Costa Mesa City Hall, killing himself, after receiving a pink slip. He had been on leave because of a broken ankle.
Pham was unmarried and did not have children, but supported his mother, fellow employees said. Pham was just one of the 213 out of 472 city employees who are having their jobs outsourced to private contractors.
His fellow employees gathered outside City Hall mourning for their friend, crying in huddled clumps, hugging each other. But the mayor was running the local bar he owned that day and evidently could not be bothered to come and address the situation.
Everyone has heard about what is going on in Wisconsin, the attack on public employees by the state. Few thought that what has happened in Wisconsin would spread so fast, but the attack on public sector unions is already here in California. In Orange County, it is occurring at lightning speed.
Within one week, the Republican-dominated city government of Costa Mesa laid off roughly half of its staff, and is making the fired workers train their replacements.
This nuclear attack on public sector workers was done without any research as to the financial effects of these drastic measures, but one city councilman said that he expected to cut from 15 percent to 40 percent of the city's labor costs. But to many people here, this attack has nothing to do with budget and everything to do with dogma.
These city Republicans are willing to destroy the careers of innocent workers just to send the public sector unions a message. The right wing in California wants to break the public unions in Orange County because of the county's notorious reputation of being an ultra-conservative area. Any mistakes that are made here can then be cleaned up as they try to develop the most efficient way to take down public worker unions and export it to more liberal counties.
With public sector unions gone, it would be much easier to shrink the size of government so corporate America can have free reign.
The Orange County Public Employees Association has already started to fight back by running TV advertisements and sending protestors to City Council meetings, as well as trying to organize the community to fight.
The battle for Wisconsin looks grim but it is not over and we cannot lose heart. We must continue to fight the good fight and show that we are willing to stand for the belief that all workers deserve a decent wage and respect in the workplace.
Photo: A spontaneous memorial for Huy Pham at the Costa Mesa City Hall where he committed suicide March 17 after receiving a layoff notice. (AP/Nick Ut)