Jan. 29, 2009

New hardship fund will aid employees affected by recession

Lindsay France/University Photography
Vice President Mary Opperman

The university has launched a hardship fund to help employees who are facing financial difficulties. All faculty and staff -- except for those at Weill Cornell Medical College -- will be able to apply to the fund for a one-time grant, starting in July, according to Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources.

The new fund is being established to ease the impact of the suspension of raises for many employees under the Salary Improvement Program for fiscal year 2009-10. President David J. Skorton announced the suspension in his Jan. 25 message to the Cornell community, while noting that the university is "committed" to resuming salary increases for 2010-11.

"We're trying to acknowledge that we know that asking people to do without a raise for a year will have consequences for our employees and their families," Opperman said.

Guidelines are still being worked out, and more information will be available in June. Officials have not yet determined the size of the fund or the application criteria, Opperman said. "Our funds are obviously limited -- otherwise we'd be giving out raises. But what we have, we'll give to those who need it the most."

In addition, the university is providing an annual bonus for some staff. Regular non-bargaining full-time staff members earning $40,000 per year or less can expect a $750 bonus in their first July paycheck. Regular, part-time staff in the same salary range can expect a pro-rated bonus, Opperman said. "It's hard for everyone to go without a salary increase. But some fixed costs hit the lower paid among us even harder. It's an attempt on our part to ease that a little."

Although Skorton noted in his message the budget cuts will result in additional job losses, the priority, he said, is to avoid layoffs whenever possible. Opperman emphasized that layoffs are a last resort and only a small percentage of the university's 8,000 nonacademic employees will lose their jobs, although some job loss is inevitable. Employees losing their jobs will have up to six months of job placement services from an external outplacement service and a Cornell case manager, and support in obtaining severance pay and benefits.

"These are challenging times on the campus," said Opperman. "Staff and faculty have come together to suggest ideas for cost savings and to support one another. We will work through these difficult times together and emerge a stronger community. Until then, I encourage staff who are concerned about their own job security to speak with their supervisors, to talk with their human resource representatives or to seek out support services such as the Employee Assistance Program. My door is always open."