Reorganization to merge several departments; 15 employees laid off.
The Unitarian Universalist Association announced the layoffs of 15 employees February 26 as the first phase of a reorganization of the UUA’s staff.
The UUA’s Washington Office for Advocacy will be eliminated at the end of the fiscal year in June. Four of the UUA’s departments will be consolidated into two: The Advocacy and Witness staff group and the Identity-Based Ministries staff group will merge, as will the Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group and the Lifespan Faith Development staff group.
Some of the layoffs will be effective within weeks, while others will be effective at the end of the fiscal year. The positions include one department head and three office directors; eight are part-time employees.
The Rev. Beth Miller, head of the Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group, will be leaving in June. The three office directors whose positions are being eliminated are Patricia Frevert, publishing director; Rob Keithan, director of the Washington Office for Advocacy; and Deborah Weiner, director of the Office of Electronic Communication.
The layoffs mean that some offices will be phased out or reorganized. In announcing the changes, however, UUA President Peter Morales emphasized that much work remained to be done in this process.
Morales had earlier told the staff that Association revenues had dropped from $26 million to $22 million in the past two years. “Unfortunately, there is simply no way we can maintain the staffing levels we have had in the past few years,” he wrote in an email to staff on February 19. “We will have to eliminate some positions.”
The merger between Identity-Based Ministries and Advocacy and Witness, Morales said in a March 4 letter posted on the UUA’s website (UUA.org), is “to put forward the best work the Association has been doing across the Unitarian Universalist (UU) movement to live out an inclusive, multicultural vision of congregational life, public witness, and engagement in the broader world.” The second merger “will support our congregations and religious professionals (including ordained ministers serving congregations and in community ministry, religious educators, musicians, and administrators) in a more integrated way,” he said.
Although the Washington Office for Advocacy will be eliminated with its three employees, the UUA’s office space in Washington, D.C., will remain open and in use by other groups, according to the Rev. Meg Riley, director of the Advocacy and Witness staff group, including the UUA Holdeen India Program and the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.
Riley said in an email to UUA staff February 26 that the UUA’s advocacy work would continue, although in a different form. “The UUA remains committed to a strong, compelling voice for UU values in the nation’s capital and elsewhere around the United States, and indeed, the world.” She said that she and Taquiena Boston, head of the UUA’s Identity-Based Ministry group, would be working to reconfigure the group.
Two positions in Identity-Based Ministries were eliminated: the staff group’s program manager and the coordinator for the Office of Accessibility Concerns. The Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s vice president of Ministries and Congregational Support, said that the Association would be working with stakeholders from the UU disability community “to create a plan to guide the UUA’s congregationally based accessibility and full inclusion work.”
The internship program based at the Washington Office will continue, although with some changes. Orelia Busch, the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation women’s issues intern, will be leaving at the conclusion of her internship in mid-August. Riley said that the UU Women’s Federation would continue to partner with the new staff group in funding interns. Instead of having one intern focusing solely on federal legislation, however, two or more might be funded to work on short-term projects concerning gender issues.
Rowan Van Ness, program associate for environmental justice with the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, will continue to work out of the Washington Office. Her position is funded by the Ministry for Earth, an independent UU organization.
Six positions have been eliminated in the Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group. In addition to Miller, five part-time employees have been laid off: four administrators for the UUA’s Regional Subcommittees on Candidacy, which evaluate candidates for the UU ministry, and the part-time internship clearinghouse coordinator.
The administrative tasks handled by those employees will be absorbed by the staff group, according to Miller. The RSCCs and the Internship Clearinghouse will both continue to function.
The UUA is dissolving the Office of Electronic Communication that had been part of the Communications staff group. Director Deborah Weiner left at the end of February; the office’s remaining two employees will be incorporated into the Information Technology Services department. Weiner’s tasks will be absorbed in part by the Information and Public Witness office, said John Hurley, head of the Communications staff group.
The UUA’s Publishing office, which produces Skinner House Books and a variety of other UUA publications, will continue to operate after Patricia Frevert’s departure at the end of March, according to Hurley.
Hurley said that sales at the UUA Bookstore were down, leading to the elimination of one customer service position in the bookstore.
UUA human resources director Rob Molla acknowledged the difficulty inherent in these changes. “While the plans to reorganize and create new staff groups are designed to help us serve our congregations better and lead us on the path of growth and enriched ministries,” he wrote in an email, “we have to acknowledge that there is a human element to these changes. It’s almost unspeakably difficult to eliminate the positions of coworkers and friends who have put their hearts and souls and energy into making a difference in our movement.”
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.