Job layoffs -- an unfamiliar status for many Senate staffers

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

When the Republican ride their landslide into the US Senate majority next January, they will not only replace elected politicians. An estimated 1,000 Senate committee staffers hired by Democrats will also be out of jobs.

At his cramped Senate committee quartersM economist Jim McIntire eats his lunch and manages to keep his sense of humor about his fate.

Only three weeks ago he had married, and he and his wife had good jobs and a combined salary of close to $60,000. He worked for the Democratic majority of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, she as a lawyer for the Carter administration.

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When the two hurried back from their Virgin Islands honeymoon in time to vote , "We anticipated losing her job," Jim McIntire says. They had not guessed that by the day after the elections the Republicans would have captured 53 seats in the US Senate, their first majority in more than a quarter of a century.

Senate rules give the majority Party the right to appoint two-thirds of all committee staffers. At a Democratic staff meeting of the Labor and Human Resources Committee this week, the staffers were told to look around, that by January every other person in the room would "be gone."

In fact, even more may be gone, because designated Republican majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee is promising to cut Senate operation costs by 10 percent. So all staffs may shrink, leaving still fewer slots for Democrats.

On Capitol Hill this week dazed staffers are slowly recovering from the shock , typing up job resumes, and managing to "roll with the punches," as one assistant staff head says.

A few years ago a laid-off staffer might go over to the House of Representatives to work for a freshman congressman. But this year "it's pretty tight,> says McIntire, who is now setting up interviews with private consultants.

And the old adage that a staffer can always find work in the private companies that deal with Congress may not hold true either, he says, now that there are "many former congressmen and senators who're out there doing the same thing."

In the Capitol, outgoing Secretary of the Senate Joseph S. Kimmitt paces the floor of his stately offices, with elaborate moldings, museum artwork, and private dining room. After almost 40 years with the government, most of them as an Army officer but 14 as a Senate staffer, he, too, is out of work. As of January the Republicans will elect a new secretary.

What will Mr. Kimmitt do next? "I honestly don't know," he says, taking time out to commiserate with a Democratic senator who also is losing his as a result of the Nov. 4 election.

"When working on Capitol Hill, often times you hear criticism of the high salaries," says Kimmitt, who earns a top-of-the-scale $55,387 as Senate secretary. "People don't stop to think that there are no job security, no career entitlements, and no 'bumping rights [as protection from layoffs].'"

Even though, in theory, all Senate staffers serve only at the will of senators, for many the stability of 26 years of Democratic majority made Senate jobs look permanent. And while staffers quipped, "That's politics! You have to expect it," in fact, almost no one -- even Republicans -- expected the changeover.

"We were hoping for it by 1982," says Tom Griscom, spokesman for Senator Baker. "I was surprised. For us to get a majority, eveverything had to break exactly right."

Now the soon-to-be majority leadership is having to work double time to cope with its victory. Baker has appointed a three-man transition team to analyze what jobs now are falling into Republican hands. As majority leader, he will have some say in jobs ranging from tour guides and beauty-parlor operators to the sergeant-at-arms and secretary.

Meanwhile, incoming Republican senatorial committee chairmen will decide how many staffers to hire. The largest committee, the Judiciary, now has 158 employees, of whom 107 were named by Democrats, mostly by current chairman Edward M. Kennedy.

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina, slated to take over the Judiciary Committee, "doesn't think he needs as big a staff," says spokeswoman Phyllis Gault. "He doesn't like waste."

As for the Senate workers who will soon be unemployed, McIntire and others predict that most will find good jobs elsewhere. Many of the staff managers already are making calls to help them out.

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