At 40 years old, Kevin Naldrett decided to walk away from his career of 20 years as an electrician to go work for the Long Island Rail Road for one reason - "security."
Little did Naldrett, of North Babylon, know that just a year later he would be among two dozen LIRR employees let go Friday in the first of nearly 100 layoffs of railroad employees this month.
"I don't know what the next job is going to be, where my next paycheck is going to come from," said Naldrett, now 41, a father of four.
The 24 assistant signalmen lined up outside the LIRR's Jamaica headquarters Friday morning, many of them sharing words of concern and support. Some of the workers, including Naldrett, were instrumental in repairing the LIRR's signal system after an electrical fire in Jamaica caused service disruptions for a week last month.
LIRR spokesman Joe Calderone said the layoffs are "painful but necessary" as the agency tries to help fill an unprecedented $900-million budget gap at the MTA. The positions of the workers laid off Friday were directly linked to the agency's recently adopted five-year capital plan, which was scaled back by about $300 million.
"We have less jobs. We have less construction projects. So we need fewer workers," said Calderone, who added that the LIRR hopes to be able to bring back the workers.
"When I got this job, I felt like I won the lottery," said John Mullagh, 50, of Sayville, one of the assistant signalmen laid off after more than a year on the job. He said he learned he was losing his job just two days ago. "I was sick, sad. Not mad. Just very sad. I love this job."
Most of the laid-off workers earn a base salary of about $47,000 a year and have the least seniority in their department, according to Chris Natale, general chairman for the Brotherhood of Rail Road Signalmen, the union representing the LIRR's 556 signalmen.
Natale said the LIRR could have avoided the layoffs through better management and allocation of funds. He noted that the $1 billion in federal stimulus money that the MTA has received was supposed to create jobs, and yet the MTA is eliminating them.
"Not only do I think it's not necessary, but I think it's criminal," Natale said.
The LIRR is laying off another 74 workers next week, including 36 conductors on Monday.
"This is not right," said Alex Kruczko, 42, of Seaford, who said he doesn't know how he'll provide for his son Alex, 1, and daughter Jessica, 5. "What do I tell her when I get home? 'Daddy doesn't have a job?' "