|Job cuts hit mission agency the hardest|
By Linda Bloom*
August 7, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries knew it was not
going to be easy to lay off staff at a time of high unemployment.
“There’s no good way to tell someone they’ve lost their job,”
acknowledged Christopher Heckert, agency staff executive for marketing
and mission communications.
However, “in stark contrast to what has been done in the past,” the
agency acted compassionately in the latest round of staff cuts by
offering employees opportunities for buyouts or early retirement,
“There’s no good way to tell someone they’ve lost their job.”–Christopher HeckertTwenty-six
employees were laid off when the mission agency cut 45 staff positions
at the end of July. Another 19 accepted retirement or voluntary
Trauma had lingered, Heckert said, from the way employees were
dismissed with little notice during smaller layoffs in 1996 and 2001
This time around, staff members were offered the opportunity to retire
or choose a “voluntary separation” package, received information on the
restructuring process, had access to chaplain services and were given
two-to-four weeks of notice of job loss to allow enough time for people
to say goodbye, he said. Those who signed severance agreements also
have access to outplacement services.
“There has been an intentionality to engage the human need as well as the spiritual need,” he added.
Still, sadness remained in the wake of the cuts.
“There’s been a lot of grief,” said Leslie Booker, a member of the
support staff who took the retirement option after working more than 16
years at the Board of Global Ministries.
While nearly all of the denomination’s agencies and commissions have
eliminated and consolidated jobs in response to the economic crisis and
a drop in income, the numbers are highest at the church’s largest
general agency, which has had to trim $4 million from this year’s
The intent of the restructuring is to create a more cost-efficient
operation while continuing the agency’s mission work. Many of the
decisions come from recommendations in an “operational audit” conducted
by the Ohio-based Management Partners, Inc.
But some employees did not feel they had enough information to make
informed decisions about voluntary separations. The 231-page audit was
not made available to the full staff until early July, after the June
30 deadline for applying for buyouts or early retirement.
For the Staff Association—the legal bargaining agent for support staff
at the Board of Global Ministries—the magnitude of the downsizing came
as a bit of a surprise, according to Booker, who was a member of the
association’s executive committee and negotiating team before her
Of the 26 employees laid off, 18 were support staff.
The association, which had about 114 members earlier in the year,
had just settled a two-year contract in March. The contract included a
three percent raise for 2009 and the opportunity to re-negotiate for
raises for 2010.
The planned restructuring was not mentioned during the contract talks,
although “we knew that there was an audit going on,” Booker said. “Had
we known that five weeks later they were going to hit us on this, we
probably would have negotiated differently.”
Work on the restructuring process is ongoing and timelines are being
established for each of the 218 recommendations from the operational
audit, according to Heckert. “It’s an active conversation between the
cabinet, the directors, the (board) task forces and Management
Partners,” he explained. “We’re really working through that document
and taking it seriously.”
Twenty-four reclassified staff positions—many in the new central unit
on mission and evangelism—are being evaluated, the board has reported.
Current staff members have been assigned to those positions on an
More changes could occur when the 2010 operating budget is completed.
The current projection for that budget, which does not include the
United Methodist Committee on Relief or the Women’s Division, is around
$46 million, down from the reduced 2009 budget of $53.6 million.
Despite the grief surrounding the staff cuts, Heckert said he is
hopeful about the agency’s future and views the new structure as an
opportunity “to really collaborate with one another.”
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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