TORONTO - Public sector workers in Ontario received 274 pink slips Thursday, the first in what their union is calling the "biggest wave of layoffs since the Mike Harris era."

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union expects 1,900 jobs cuts between now and next March as part of the planned reductions, which it said will endanger programs people rely on.

"Each person that gets laid off takes the service with them, so it will affect the public -- you may not see it within a week but you certainly will see it in time," said OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

The massive cuts to services and disastrous labour relations under Harris, a former Progressive Conservative premier, should have taught the province that cuts to public services hurt everyone, Thomas added.

"Dalton McGuinty was elected to turn the page on eight years of destructive cuts that led to the systemic collapse of many public services and contributed directly to the death of seven people in the Walkerton water tragedy," said Thomas.

The cuts mean the province will stop verifying local social assistance distribution, reduce staffing that monitors collection agencies, and lay off 57 people with technical expertise in water safety and air quality.

There will be more notices given out during the summer, and the union is asking its members to wear pink and don Band-Aids with the phrase "cuts hurt."

It's unusual for a government to lay off employees in an election year, and OPSEU is promising to make layoffs a campaign issue ahead of the Oct. 6 vote.

The Liberals say the five per cent reduction in public sector jobs, announced in their budget, is the type of "pruning" people expect and won't affect public services.

"Managing the size of the civil service responsibly will help us continue to make progress in the public services that matter most to Ontarians," Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar said in a statement.

"While these decisions are difficult, we have rejected the cuts and chaos of the PCs and the NDP approach of ripping up contracts and bringing in unpaid days off."

New Democrat Peter Kormos said the cuts would hit some of the most important workers in the province -- those who guarantee the health and safety of communities, families, children and seniors.

"The Harris cuts of 1995, 1996 and 1997 resulted in tragedies like Walkerton," said Kormos.

"The McGuinty cuts of 2011 and 2012 are going to result in similar tragedies, make no mistake about it."

Kormos also poked a bit of fun at the Liberals, who on Wednesday had dubbed NDP Leader Andrea Horwath "the new Mike Harris," by showing off button that read: "I'm a Mike Harris Socialist."

The Liberals, who have for months portrayed PC Leader Leader Tim Hudak as a Harris lapdog, said they lent the label to Horwath because her stance on poverty, the environment and energy was so weak it deserved the comparison.

The NDP has promised to roll back corporate tax cuts to help fund public services, while the Tories have pledged a two per cent reduction in the size of government.