Financial woes force nonprofit to cut staff

'We're hoping by January we'll see some turnaround. We may be able to bring people back in or restructure some jobs.' - Tommie Hollis-Younger , Haymarket People's Fund executive director "We're hoping by January we'll see some turnaround. We may be able to bring people back in or restructure some jobs." - Tommie Hollis-Younger, Haymarket People's Fund executive director (Globe Staff Photo / Yoon S. Byun)
By Christina Pazzanese
Globe Correspondent / September 28, 2008
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Single Page|
  • |
Text size +

A Jamaica Plain nonprofit started in the mid-1970s to realize the ideals of social change and diversity is in the midst of a painful and contentious downsizing that's pitting workers against management.

Haymarket People's Fund, launched by a group of wealthy donors including baking scion George Pillsbury, provides grants of $150 up to $100,000 to a wide variety of grass-roots urban and rural organizations in New England that focus on social change and diversity, including the Women of Color Fundraising Institute, Asian American Resource Workshop, and the Chelsea Latino Immigrant Committee.

"During the last year and a half we have had to take a deep and critical look at Haymarket's financial position and assess the social, economic, and political climate that continues to adversely impact many of the organizations that we fund," said executive director Tommie Hol lis-Younger, along with board president Ricardo Neal and associate director Karla Nicholson, in an Aug. 27 letter to supporters. "We have taken the painful step of reducing organizational overhead resulting in a smaller staff at the fund," the letter said.

Citing a lingering deficit, annual operating costs of $500,000 that match the amount raised for grants, as well as underperforming investments, Haymarket has been forced to make some tough choices, Hollis-Younger said in an interview.

"Right now, our grant-making program is running neck and neck with payroll," she said.

Though the deficit is not new, investment income until now has offset any gaps.

"This year we don't have that cushion," she said.

An audit report of Haymarket's operations through June 30, 2007, states revenues of $1.28 million but expenses of $1.25 million, including grants given out. Haymarket took in $1.29 million but spent $1.48 million as of June 30, 2006, according to tax documents.

Simply stepping up donations won't be enough to stanch the financial bleeding, said Hollis-Younger. "We've gotten all the money we can get."

Of the six staff positions, one full-timer was reduced to part time, while another employee quit because of a commuting conflict, said Hollis-Younger. Management is now reviewing two other full-time positions to determine if they'll be laid off in the next week or so, she said. If those employees are let go, only Hollis-Younger and associate director Karla Nicholson would remain to run the organization.

"It's not good; some of us have been here 20-some years," Hollis-Younger said.

If fund-raising goes well this fall, Hollis-Younger said, it's possible some jobs may be reinstated. "We're hoping by January we'll see some turnaround. We may be able to bring people back in or restructure some jobs," she said.

The layoffs came as a surprise to union officials at United Auto Workers Local 1596, which represents Haymarket's nonmanagement employees. Business agent C.J. Barber said he "had no idea" until management called for a meeting earlier this month and informed him that at least two - and possibly more - full-time positions would be eliminated within 60 days. Most of the all-female staff has worked there for more than a decade in administrative, financial, and marketing roles, he said.

Barber said the union sent a letter to Haymarket two weeks ago asking for another sit-down to try to find an amicable solution.

"We're not on the same page," said Barber. "Our intent is to not have this layoff. What's striking to me is, when you have a workforce of five, they're pretty much laying off all positions. My question is: Are they going to stay in business?"

Hollis-Younger said she hoped to meet with union officials by the end of last week.

While Hollis-Younger said Haymarket would continue to operate after the layoffs, with she and Nicholson handling development and other responsibilities, Barber said an existing collective bargaining agreement prohibits management from simply letting workers go and then taking over their duties themselves.

"It just doesn't work that way," he said.

Stacy Jackson, Haymarket's communications director, said the situation has created unbearable tensions and chaos within the organization, particularly between staff and Hollis-Younger, who, Jackson said, told staffers they must help with damage control.

Jackson said things are so acrimonious, she was falsely accused by Hollis-Younger of leaking news of the layoffs to the Globe and chastised in front of the entire staff earlier this month.

"I'm very, very hurt. It's unbelievable," said Jackson, a 15-year staff veteran. "They're trying to find a way to fire me rather than lay me off."

Hollis-Younger acknowledged the incident did occur, but said it was based on a misunderstanding and that Jackson has not been fired or punished.

"She's still here," she said.

Jackson has also asked for an apology.

"I'm willing to do that," said Hollis-Younger.

Hollis-Younger, who has worked at the fund for 21 years, serving as its executive director since last year, said she plans to step down when her contract is up next month, though she is likely to stay on until the end of the year to assist in an organizational transition. She said she planned to stay on as director for only a year and that she wants to go back in the community.

"It has nothing to do with layoffs," she said.

News of Haymarket's troubles has spilled out into the nonprofit community, in part because of an anonymous e-mail circulated by a group calling itself Haymarket Friends.

Alex Pirie, who received the e-mail, works for Immigrant Service Providers in Somerville and is friendly with a number of Haymarket's original founders. He said it's unfortunate that an organization like Haymarket that funds other, smaller nonprofits is having such financial troubles now because "there's more and more people who need help and less and less money."

On Thursday, Haymarket's board of directors sent an e-mail to its supporters summing up its situation and decrying the anonymous e-mail.

"Haymarket's doors will stay open because we know that many of our donors will give their last dollar so that people are able to organize for justice and equity," the e-mail said.

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.