UJA ‘takes leadership’ in cost-cutting

UJA ‘takes leadership’ in cost-cutting

As Jewish communal groups around the country struggle to maintain their programs in the face of reduced income, UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey recently took a strong cost-cutting measure, furloughing its staff and closing its building for one week in late August.

“We needed to take leadership,” said Howard Charish, UJA-NNJ executive vice president, explaining that federation was “closed for business” during that time. “We’ll do whatever we need to do to be fiscally responsible.”

The furlough, which realized a savings of some $56,000 – through monies saved on employee compensation and on operating costs such as electricity – was part of a larger effort to save $1 million in operational funds.

“We did it in a multiplicity of ways,” said Charish. “The managing team salary was reduced; there were layoffs and reduction of hours for staff members; we instituted a travel freeze; and we asked our employees to participate in the payment of their medical plans.”

Charish said the group succeeded in meeting its goals but that “there is no question that when you decrease the staff, the number of projects and initiatives also decrease.”

Still, he said, “I am very proud of my colleagues. Everyone is giving their all to maintain the level of service, but you have to be realistic.”

“We will do whatever we have to do to have a balanced budget,” he said. “As our treasurer said, we’ve sharpened our pencils and we do have contingencies, but we’re hoping that in 2010 we will raise more funds. But if not, we will do what we have to do.”

Charish said the date of the furlough was chosen by surveying staff members.

“We knew it had to be in the summertime, but there’s no one right week,” he said.

He noted as well that in his message to the group’s board of trustees announcing the furlough, his phone number and that of David Gad-Harf, UJA-NNJ’s associate executive vice president and chief operating officer, were provided in case of emergency.

“We did receive several calls,” he said, adding that the group would consider imposing another furlough if the budget situation warrants it.

Other federations are taking significant cost-cutting measures as well.

According to JTA staff reporter Jacob Berkman, UJC MetroWest in central New Jersey reduced its operating budget by $1 million through staff cuts, furloughs, and other belt-tightening measures, with an across-the-board salary reduction of 5 percent for staff members.

In addition, in mid-August the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington sent out a message announcing an 8.5 percent salary reduction and a move to a four-day workweek. The group noted that it was taking these actions – driven by a 25 percent drop in the annual campaign – in the hopes of avoiding large-scale layoffs.

Charish said the simultaneous closure of the Bergen County YJCC during the UJA-NNJ furlough “was just a coincidence” and that he is not aware of other local groups that took similar action.

Harold Benus, executive director of the YJCC, said he did not want to discuss last week’s YJCC’s closure but preferred to focus “on the innovative steps [we’re taking] to make sure we’re healthy and vibrant, financially and creatively.” He said, however, that it is important for people to know “we’re taking fiscally responsible steps to fulfill our commitment.”

Avi Lewinson, executive director of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, told The Jewish Standard that while the center is not considering a furlough at present among its economic options, “we would consider it if necessary.”

Steve Allen, head of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey, said that “at this moment, we … have no plans to implement that process as a cost-cutting measure. We have already taken other steps to ensure a secure balanced budget, and they seem to be working.”

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