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October 10, 2002

Some long-term staff lose jobs in units' attempts to absorb cuts

At least some of the $8 million in cuts mandated from this year’s budget are being made by eliminating long-term staff, two social work staffers learned recently.

In July, Pitt’s administration announced that $8 million would be trimmed University-wide from the fiscal year 2003 budget. Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said at the time that some Pitt units could reach their reduced budget goal by not filling open positions. “But this is not a budget that is built around the expectation that there will be any significant layoffs and position reductions,” Nordenberg added.

This week, however, Provost James Maher acknowledged that some staff layoffs and position eliminations had already taken place and others likely will follow. He declined to specify which units have been affected.

“It’s no secret that all units have been asked to take budget cuts,” Maher told the University Times yesterday. “How many will take cuts in the form of staffing changes, I don’t know at this point. I do know that there have been units already that have made staffing changes, although some of those staff have been placed somewhere else at the University.”

Two long-term staff members in Pitt’s School of Social Work were laid off this month in a budget-cutting move, according to Hidenori Yamatani, associate dean for research at the school.

In a closed-door meeting this week, Dean Larry Davis addressed the reasons behind the layoffs, Yamatani said. John Greeno, Human Resources assistant vice chancellor for employee/labor relations, also attended the meeting.

Davis did not return phone calls from the University Times yesterday.

Yamatani said both of the laid-off social work employees were secretarial staff with long-term service to the University. “One of the staff members was with the University for more than 40 years, the other for nearly 30,” said Yamatani. Both staffers were at the top of their salary ranges, he said. Yamatani said he didn’t know if that was a factor in the school’s decision to lay off the two staff members.

According to Yamatani, the staffers were given two options: Accept other positions at the school at approximately a 40 percent cut in pay, or leave the University and take a severance package, which he declined to define. The staff members took the severance option rather than the pay cut, he said.

The two staff members were notified Sept. 30 of their dismissal, and given two weeks’ notice, Yamatani said. Their positions are not expected to be filled this fiscal year.

Social Work employs about 20 staff, including several part-timers, according to a social work staff member.

Concerning the rationale behind the staff cuts, Yamatani said, “When over 95 percent of the hard budget is in personnel, that is, salary and benefits, it’s particularly difficult to cut from other resources without sacrificing quality.”

Provost Maher said decisions about where to make cuts are up to the individual unit’s leadership. “The mandate from my office to each unit is to look carefully at all resources, which does include looking at staffing. While units are mandated to look at staff as well as everything else,” no other guidelines regarding staff are given, he said. “When the dust settles, how many staff will be involved, I just don’t know at this point.”

He added that it is University policy to place employees in comparable positions at the University whenever possible.

Staff Association Council (SAC) President Barbara Mowery had raised a related issue at a public meeting in September. See Sept. 26 University Times,

Mowery told the Sept. 11 SAC meeting that the staff association had asked Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, to investigate claims that long-term staff are being targeted for departmental budget cuts.

Mowery later told the University Times, “We had been contacted by staff who were concerned about the termination of long-time staff, especially [in the context of] the budget cuts and some reorganization which was taking place.”

In response to a query about Mowery’s statement, Frisch told the University Times on Sept. 25, “I am constantly looking at staff issues in relationship to terminations. I will be working with the leadership of the Staff Association Council on this subject; however, this information is confidential and will remain so.”

Neither Frisch nor Human Resources official John Greeno returned calls or e-mails from the University Times yesterday.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 4

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