Monday, March 08, 2010

I'm feeling sad about the many staff changes at the UUA

due to a necessary restructuring of the organization. I have not yet read any explanation of how the decisions were reached to lay off quite a few people; I do believe that it was due largely to budget constraints and that there was a process for making these decisions, but as a minister who has to explain these things to congregants, I'd like to know how the cuts were made and why so many longterm employees, both higher and lower level, were let go.

Our president, Peter Morales, announced the restructuring and a UUWorld article details some of the staff changes, but there's not a lot of information about how and why, other than a reference to budget matters. Is it due to a new administration's coming into the UUA? If so, are these political layoffs as well?

I don't suspect anyone of anything underhanded or clandestine, but I do wonder what the process was. Did the employees know this was coming? Did they have any recourse? During economic hard times, what are their options? Are they now out in the cold, figuratively speaking?

In other words, are we walking our talk, as a democratically governed association? Inquiring minds, etc.

24 comments:

Scott Wells said...

1. I would want to know if the first fired with be the first offered a re-hire.

2. I would like to know which positions are full and part time (and which, if any are made part time) to sense what kind of budget savings there are.

I don't think there's anything underhanded going on, unless one counts the positive spin about restructuring.

Robin Edgar said...

"Is it due to a new administration's coming into the UUA? If so, are these political layoffs as well?"

Maybe some of these are just plain expedient terminations of employment. . . Perhaps *some* UUA staff were "less than competent" or otherwise deserving of being let go. I for one am quite happy to see some of those who were "laid off" on the way out. I expect that there are multiple and layered reasons for these "lay offs." I only hope that more competent people will eventually replace some of the UUA staff members who were "let go" since Rev. Peter Morales was elected as President of the UUA. That being said I would like to see a lot more transparency from the UUA, including, but by no means limited to, full and complete reasons being provided for any employment terminations.

Chalicechick said...

(((That being said I would like to see a lot more transparency from the UUA, including, but by no means limited to, full and complete reasons being provided for any employment terminations.)))

People having standards for the UUA that are so incredibly demanding and unreasonable that no current organization I've ever heard of meets them happens enough that it really shouldn't surprise me when it does, but somehow I always am surprised.

Suffice to say, no organization I've ever heard of does this and there are many reasons, practical, legal and moral, why they don't.

To me the fact that most of the layoffs were entire departments, albeit in one case an entire department that I thought of as particularly ineffective, suggests that money, not job performance was the issue.

CC

Robin Edgar said...

Who is to say that the UUA's lack of money and incompetent ineffective job performance of some UUA staff are not quite closely *interco0nnected* in some cases CC? How may millions of dollars did the UUA flush down the propverbial toilet on all but futile national and regional advertising campaigns in the last several years? It seems to me that those millions of dollars *could* have covered the salaries of a good number of UUA staff for some years. . .

Personally I don't think that it is unrealistic to expect the UUA to provide the reasons why UUA staff are fired or laid off or otherwise "let go." Likewise I think the UUA should be open and transparent about why U*U ministers are defellowshipped when they are "let go" by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.

Chalicechick said...

If it's such a good idea, why does no other denomination do it? (OK, the Scientologists happily badmouth anyone who leaves their employ, but they aren't an example that most of us are dying to follow.)

Or business? Or government?

I mean, it's an obvious idea. If it's a good idea, why hasn't it caught on?

CC

Robin Edgar said...

I find your "reasoning" to be incredibly facile and simplistic CC. Lots of good ideas don't "catch on" right away, or even after decades and centuries of promoting the idea, and plenty of bad ideas are quite popular and all too prevalent in our society. Just because few other people or organizations do a certain thing does not mean that Unitarian*Universalists shouldn't do it. By your overly simplistic "reasoning" here perhaos U*Us should just abandon fighting for marriage equality for example since very few religious groups promote it and it hasn't exactly "caught on" with the public has it?

I believe that if a "less than perfect" U*U minister is dismissed by a U*U church and/or defellowshipped by the MFC as a result of clergy sexual misconduct or some other form of clergy misconduct U*Us have a right to know about that. If a UUA staff member is fired or otherwise let go due to incompetence or other poor performance I see no reason why U*Us should not be aware of the real reasons for their dismissal. I am not even convinced that your assertion that "no other denomination" provides the reasons why certain clergy are fired etc. is all that truthful. Quite frankly other denominations seem to be quite a bit more transparent about clergy being fired or otherwise disciplined for clergy sexual misconduct than the UUA is.

My point about certain UUA staffers overspending on national and regional advertising campaigns to the detriment of the financial health of the UUA is quite valid as AFAIAC. Several million dollars were spent on largely ineffective UUA marketing campaigns within the last few years and just what has the UUA to show for it? Is it just a pure "coincidence" that the UUA's Congregational Services Department no longer exists and other departments are being phased out or "downsized"?

Miss Kitty said...

I feel ya, Ms. K. [deep sigh] So many people are losing their jobs all over the country, and sometimes it feels like the reasons we've been given for the layoffs aren't quite telling the whole story.

Chalicechick said...

Didn't think you had an answer.

What I find interesting about the selective hysteria over the UUA spending money on efforts that didn't work very well is that the people who actually donate that money often don't mind. The Pathways project, for example, was largely funded by donations from wealthy people. My impression is that several of them had given money to Horizon and were looking for something more ambitious. Wealthy people get that sometimes you have to take a risk and if you fail, learn from your mistake. Wealthy people do things like that all the time.

That's how they get to be wealthy in the first place.

So lots of people who put no money toward initiatives and couldn't have afforded to anyway run around going "How DARE the UUA spend money on something that didn't work the first time!" while actually financially successful people shrug it off and go back to looking for new ideas.

I know a lot of people in the non-profit world and this works the same way there. The people who donate five dollars scream to high heaven every time something doesn't work out, the people who donate five million just consider the money research costs and look for a different approach using the lessons they've learned.

Horizon UU was about as successful as Pathways for a lot less money, I suspect future church plantings will look more like Horizon.

CC
who didn't think the "UU Megachurch" idea was a particularly good idea herself, but lots of things CC thinks are stupid succeed brilliantly in this world.

Lizard Eater said...

From the Election-L list, today:

The June 2009 Financial Advisors Report prepared by Dan Brody and presented at the 2009 GA specifically calls for a reduction in staffing equivalent to 13 full time positions because of the shortfall in endowment revenues, "Now is the Time" cash gifts and congregational contributions. Unlike the federal government, the UUA Board can only fund programming based on present resources. When individuals and congregations reduce their contributions, they are in effect telling the UUA to reduce programs. No delegate votes needed on this one. The Board has no recourse but to accept the congregations' economic vote, and the incoming President has the duty to report the results. You can read the report at: http://www.uua.org/documents/finadvisor/090624_fa_annual_report.pdf

Peace,
Keith Goheen
Rehoboth Beach, DE

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for sending this, LE; it is the major piece of the puzzle, I think.

Mark said...

What I'm missing in the posts is any reference to the overall economy. My life partner works for a small non-profit that does programming and collaborating for all the big non-profits. I get frequent reports.

The economic lake in which we all swim has suffered major drainage due to the whole subprime crime, and layoffs (many unreported) are proliferating still throughout the non-profit (for that matter, also the for-profit) sector, including religious organizations.

The lack of sufficient income, and the loss of prior income, entails a need to cut and sometimes to cut even good and promising people, even good and promising programs. I'll go out on a sturdy limb and say, it probably was not over-investment in questionable programs that led to the current situation. It was the economy (I won't quote James Carville any further than that).

Some of the sharpest critics I knew of a prior UUA administration, one often (and perhaps sometimes correctly) accused of political firings, after they worked at 25 Beacon Street, came back with a report several years ago. Their report was how impressed they were by the dedication of the whole staff from top to bottom, including the ethics and compassion of the whole staff, including the ethics and compassion of the then president. They were not fans of that UU President.

I'm all for transparency as far as that is feasible and hurts no one. And I'm also quite convinced that were any of us to do what this colleague did some years ago (work at #25), we would come back with a similar report. I think, without being naive, we don't need to look for evil-doing. Or if we look, let us turn our gaze again to the southside of Manhattan and the legal criminal activity that has led us all into these straits.

Chalicechick said...

Hey, even I will confess that I think the people at the UUA Washington Office worked hard and meant well and were good folks.

I think regular transparency is fine, but I think the sort of transparency where we would be reported who the UUA fired and why is legally and morally questionable. At best, it wouldn't do any good because anyone who was getting fired for cause who had any sense would quit instead, something that most people with any sense do anyway if they think they are about to be fired.

CC

Miss Kitty said...

Mark, your points are well-made, especially where you write, "I think, without being naive, we don't need to look for evil-doing. Or if we look, let us turn our gaze again to the southside of Manhattan and the legal criminal activity that has led us all into these straits." Hear, hear!

Robin Edgar said...

Are you accusing me of "hysteria" CC? It should be obvious that the millions of dollars spent on ineffective UUA advertising campaigns, to say nothing of the Pathways fiasco which I did not even mention, *might* have been better spent on more realistic projects, including simply financially supporting proper staffing of the seemingly perennially understaffed UUA headquarters at 25 Beacon Street. The fact that *some* of these millions of dollars came from the pockets of rich U*U donors does not in any way change the fact that the money *could* have been better spent. . .

:That's how they get to be wealthy in the first place.

More facile over simplification.

:Horizon UU was about as successful as Pathways for a lot less money, I suspect future church plantings will look more like Horizon.

If I am to believe recent U*U blog posts and comments there will be no "church plantings" any time soon CC. . .

Chalicechick said...

Church planting in a bad economy isn't a very good idea, IMHO, and it is expensive when the UUA does it. It is cheaper when it is done on a local level the way Horizon was and I suspect that's what plantings will look like more in the future.

And yeah, I see freaking out over advertising costs as hysteria coming from anyone. A new building on any one church costs "millions of dollars," it costs about a million to run my church for a year and I don't go to the biggest church in my area by far.

So for the cost of a new building or running a big-ish church for a few years, we tried an advertising campaign and you can be we talked to a lot of people about what worked in attracting people and what didn't.

If there were a formula that everyone knew that made for a fabulous church ad the attracted tons of members, we would be using that formula. Since we don't know it, it doesn't make a lot of sense to claim it is a waste of money to try to figure it out.

Yes, my suggestion that wealthy people often become that way by taking the long view and being willing to spend money to make money is an oversimplification as far as how to make money, but I'm not handing you the complete formula for how to get rich here, just looking at the differences between how wealthy people tend to react and how non-wealthy people tend to react when causes they donate to do something that produces knowledge but no short-term benefit. I know more about this as far as politics and non-profits go, but the dynamic for churches seems to be exactly the same.

Here's a politics example. Traditionally some parts of America are very liberal and other parts are very conservative. The traditional way for a liberal politician to campaign has been to do almost all their advertising and make almost all their visits to states where they know they will have support and states in the middle where they have a chance. Liberal politicians traditionally ignore states that don't elect liberals.

Howard Dean wanted to do things differently and came up with what he called the "50 state strategy." He advertised everywhere, he went everywhere.

And he lost, and everyone screamed that he was an idiot and lots of his donors were mad at him for doing such an illogical and foolish thing, etc, etc, etc,. Pretty much exactly what people like to say about the UUA's advertising.

Until the Obama campaign looked at what Dean had done and what worked and what didn't and Obama used a modified version of the 50 state strategy. Some states voted for Obama that hadn't voted for a democrat in 50 years. And Obama won.

So was Dean's effort REALLY a waste of the Democrats' money?

CC

Miss Kitty said...

Good point, CC. I hadn't made the connection between methods (politicians' campaigns, new churches in new areas) until now. Maybe UUs should think of planting another church or two in my area (West Central Georgia)...there's only one within a 90-mile radius. Hmmmm.

Robin Edgar said...

:And yeah, I see freaking out over advertising costs as hysteria coming from anyone.

I am not "freaking out" I am just *pointing* out that the millions that the UUA spent on advertising were effectively flushed down the proverbial toilet and that if those millions had been devoted to better staffing of 25 Beacon Street that the lay offs might never have happened. Not that I don't think that *some* of those UUA administrators who were "laid off" deserved to be dismissed anyway for "less than excellent" job performance. . .

:A new building on any one church costs "millions of dollars," it costs about a million to run my church for a year and I don't go to the biggest church in my area by far.

ROTFLMU*UO! I don't know how many times you have expressed your pride at belonging to a very large U*U congregation so I guess that I can reasonably assume here that all those other churches in your area that are "by far" bigger than yours are non-U*U churches. Maybe U*Us should get a clue from that. . . Why is it CC that so few people want to be U*Us?

:If there were a formula that everyone knew that made for a fabulous church ad the attracted tons of members, we would be using that formula. Since we don't know it, it doesn't make a lot of sense to claim it is a waste of money to try to figure it out.

Maybe what U*Us need is some fabulous churches rather than fabulous church ads CC. . . If U*Us actually had some fabulous churches they might not need to waste millions on futile advertising campaigns. Word of mouth advertising would draw in thousands of people if not some millions. What kind of word of mouth advertising is The U*U Movement getting these days CC?

ms. kitty said...

Okay, all, I'm ready to move on. I'm not publishing any more comments. Sorry.

Chalicechick said...

May I at least respond to Robin's claims about my church?

I was talking about UU churches. There are thousands of UUs in the Washington DC area. That's not to say we aren't a small religion, we still are, but there's a decent number of us where I live. My church is a healthy one but there are several nearby UU churches are much bigger.

CC

ms. kitty said...

Okay but that's it.

Christopher L. Walton said...

Ms. Kitty, Lizard Eater had forwarded a letter from the Election-L list from Keith Goheen that is misleading. Here's the response I had sent to the list, which I hope you'll add in the interests of accuracy:

Keith Goheen had pointed to a 2009 report by UUA Financial Advisor Dan Brody, which mentioned the reduction of the UUA staff by the equivalent of 13 fulltime positions. Those positions were eliminated in March 2009, almost entirely through attrition rather than layoffs. The 15 positions eliminated through layoffs this year are on top of those earlier staff reductions.

See UU World's coverage of the 2009 staff reorganization.

At the beginning of 2010 (before the layoffs announced last week), the UUA had 177 employees, including a number of parttime employees.

The board has no role in most personnel or staff organization decisions at the UUA, but does approve the annual budget. The president is the chief executive officer and is ultimately responsible for the staff.

Chris Walton
Editor, UU World

ms. kitty said...

Thank you, Chris, that's a worthy addition to the commentary.

Masasa said...

Since you are no longer publishing comments, I assume this won't be published, but for what it is worth, someone the other day pointed out to me that layoffs with a new president are typical in UU administrations. I was told, but have not yet researched the accuracy of the claim, that Buerhens, for example laid off a number of folks in his early administration, and that Sinkford did not only because his platform had been so similar to his predecesor. Political layoffs, while ugly, may be in the nature of a democratic organization..."cleaning house" a bit leads to a more effective political administration, and if you've run your campaign for presidency on the promise of change, it seems reasonable that you give yourself the best shot at being effective in making those changes.

ms. kitty said...

Oh, what the heck, Masasa, your comment is good too. Robin, want one more?