Dear fellow UCU members,
As you may already be aware, six members of our unit were laid off today, as well as a number of managers and administrators. These layoffs were in response to budget cuts imposed by Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees. The decisions were made in consultation with Deans and Heads of Departments. The loss of these longtime employees is a horrible shock to our community and we did everything in our power to resist these layoffs and respond to this crisis.
The unfortunate reality is that the administration is within their rights to lay off workers in times of fiscal hardship, so long as they do not recreate the eliminated position within a one year time frame. A layoff, as opposed to a firing, does not need to be “for cause.” Given this, our strategy was to try to reduce the total number of people laid off, secure as many benefits as possible for those people, and make sure that the layoffs happened in a way that was respectful and responsible. We made a special urgent request for the administration to avoid the past practice whereby employees were summarily dismissed and then escorted out of the building. We firmly believe that that kind of callous treatment of loyal, longtime employees has no place at Cooper Union.
On Wednesday, February 15, members of the UCU Executive Committee and David Eng Wong, our Labor Relations Specialist, met with Bill Mea and Cooper Union’s lawyers to negotiate the impact of these layoffs on all of our membership: those getting laid off, as well as those left with potentially increased workloads. We were not satisfied with the results of this meeting and appealed directly to President Sparks. On Wednesday, February 22, Laura Sparks joined the Executive Committee in our standing meeting with Bill Mea. Laura was sensitive to our concerns and listened to the UCU requests about lack of notice. In response, she offered to provide counseling and job placement services for those laid off, as well as some reassurance that the layoff meetings would be conducted responsibly and with sensitivity.
We have guidelines and provisions in our contract that help and protect employees that are laid off.* In addition, we forcefully argued for more than the administration has offered in the past. This included more compassionate care, benefits, protections, and crucially, we asked for the fair and equitable treatment of all employees at Cooper, whether they be staff or management. In the past, managers have been given notice of impending layoffs far in advance (giving them time to wind up their affairs and in some cases find new work), while UCU staff were given no notice at all.
As a result of these discussions, we were able to secure some key additional protections on such a short timetable:
- Argued that our ranks are already very thin and that impact on other workers would be significant. Tried to reduce the number of layoffs, and members affected, to the best of our abilities;
- Pushed for two weeks notice, rather than same-day dismissals. Cooper’s lawyers declined this request;
- Health care benefits were extended through the severance period. For employees who were close to retirement age, we secured a retirement healthcare package;
- Negotiated option for members to roll into retirement when applicable;
- A provision to return, at the member’s own convenience, to Cooper to say goodbye to their colleagues and collect any items not able to be removed on the day of their layoff;
- Access to EAP (Employee Assistance Program) services;
- One month of outplacement services for transitioning into employment outside Cooper Union;
- Access to mental health services and counseling;
- Negotiation of the impact of work distribution, additional responsibilities, compensation, job title changes of existing positions and any new positions created;
We argued forcefully for better procedures to allow people until end of day to remove personal items and leave campus without an escort. The administration, citing safety and security concerns, would not change this policy, which was incredibly disappointing.
We understand that our work is far from done. Many of you will be directly affected by what has happened today and will undoubtedly have questions and concerns regarding future workloads and compensation for additional duties. The UCU will be there to suport you in these upcoming conversations with your managers and the administration. In the interim, we want to hear your concerns and are available to answer questions about the layoffs or any other employment matters.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you promptly. We are available to meet with anyone individually or in groups to discuss the implications of what has happend today.
The UCU Leadership
Cara Di Edwardo
*BARGAINING AGREEMENT LANGUAGE
TWELVE: RESIGNATION/ACCRUALS/SEVERANCE PAY
- A. Members of the bargaining unit will be paid for accrued and unused vacation upon resignation, retirement, or termination.
- B. Upon execution of a general release, members of the bargaining unit will receive severance pay in the event of a layoff as follows: employees with O – 2 years of service, two (2) week’s pay; employees with over 2 but under 5 years of service, one week’s pay for each year of service; employees with over 5 but under 10 years of service, 1 1/2 week’s pay for each year of service; employees with more than 10 years of service, 2 week’s pay for each year of service to a maximum of 52 week’s pay.