On Aug. 24, as California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) students began their first day of virtual instruction, 29 CSUMB staff members received layoff notices that same morning. Shortly after, four different employee support groups wrote a letter to the university’s President Eduardo Ochoa and his cabinet. The groups demanded the layoff notices be rescinded and called for the immediate resignation of Associate Vice President of University Personnel, Natalie King.
“Communication of the layoffs was poor, ineffective, insensitive and added unnecessary pain and confusion [to staff members],” read the letter signed by CSUMB’s branches of the Employees Union Chapter 322, California Faculty Association (CFA), Teamsters Local 2010 Skilled Trades and Academic Professionals of California (APC). The letter claimed Ochoa and his cabinet hastily administered the layoff notices which hindered the relationship between university administration and staff, causing a decline in campus morale.
According to Ochoa, the layoffs were issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic forcing CSUMB classes to go virtual and thus reducing the amount of essential functions needed to run the new university model. Additionally, Public Information Officer of CSUMB Walter Ryce said that although the 29 staff members received layoff notices, the administration “expects the actual number of people laid off will be less than 29, because some employees are opting to participate in the early exit program.”
The decision of who would be laid off was dependent upon one’s seniority, which was established from the policies written in union bargaining agreements. The newest staff members were at the highest risk of being laid off. In his public office hours, Ochoa said, “I feel good about the process we went through … this was done in a very thoughtful, careful, deliberate way by communicating at the grassroots level with the immediate supervisors of all positions that were exhibiting lack of work.”
During his public office hours Ochoa also said the administration had concerns about keeping confidentiality between the laid off employees and their coworkers and therefore not all managers were made aware of the layoffs. “I acknowledge that we fell short of our ideal way of delivering this information,” Ochoa said. While recognizing this, Ochoa said he understood the letter’s point of view, but did not agree with its demands.
President of the Employees Union Chapter 322 Sathyan Sundram said last summer the president and his cabinet warned employees there was a chance staff layoffs would be conducted in the fall, but he was not pleased by the administration’s methods of presenting the layoff information.
Sundram said many laid off staff members and their managers were completely unaware of the incoming notices. While he understood the pandemic would inevitably cause employee’s hours to be cut, he was not aware of their volume as 8.6% of people in the union received a layoff notice. “We’re not surprised that something happened,” he said, “we’re surprised that it’s so many people.”
Chapter 322 was also unsatisfied with the nature in which the layoffs were delivered. The original last day for laid off staff was going to be Oct. 12 but was changed to Nov. 27 to match a 90-day notice requirement. Because of the change, some staff members received three different notices.
“Layoffs are a really sensitive critical process and you could imagine the emotional pain that it puts most people through, and you’d hope university personnel would be very careful about how they do it, but that does not appear to be the case,” Sundram said.
The union also felt unsure about the administration’s claims that there is a lack of work at CSUMB. “We as a union will be going into a meeting confer process where we try to mitigate some of these layoffs at the university to show us that there’s actually no work for these classifications,” Sundram said.
When asked how he was evaluating the lack of work for CSUMB employees in a faculty and staff town hall meeting on Aug. 26, Ochoa said he, the cabinet and University Personnel gathered feedback from department managers to make their decision.
Chapter 322 became concerned about the laid off staff members who currently live in employee housing and are no longer entitled to reside in East Campus. During Ochoa’s office hours, Vice President of Administration and Finance at CSUMB Kevin Saunders said those staff members can stay in their homes as long as they need to. “No one is being asked to leave and we will work with everyone individually.”
Marta Gonzalez was laid off from her job at the University Police Department and felt much emotional turmoil around the notice. She also lives in East Campus housing. Gonzalez said the hunt for a new home has been very stressful because in order to pay rent she must find a new job. Although she is in the process of obtaining her master’s degree and has a strong work background, very few people are hiring during the pandemic. “I applied for a job at Trader Joes and I got denied an interview there and at a couple other places. I’m just not hearing back.” She was also disappointed by the administration’s process of issuing her notice.
Gonzalez was working 20-hour weeks and had just ended her employee probationary period when she received the notice. She said her direct supervisor and the chief of police were not aware she was going to be laid off.
“It feels really impersonal that (the) administration just kind of made these decisions without considering the usefulness of employees to the individual department,” Gonzalez said. “It just makes you really feel neglected as an individual … [I didn’t] know what was happening at all, and that’s a very unsettling feeling.”
Shelby Scoggin moved into staff housing one week before she was laid off. She was greatly distressed by her layoff notice’s method of delivery when receiving a phone call from a private number who told her the news.
“I was completely shocked and taken back because my director had told me on a number of occasions that she had informed her vice president that everyone in her department has sufficient work,” Scoggin said.
Scoggin then informed her director she was laid off. She said her director then made a few calls to administrators of University Personnel and found out Scoggin actually did have sufficient work and had received a false layoff notice.
Scoggin was relieved until she received another call on Aug. 27. She discovered she “had plenty of work but because other people across campus who didn’t have significant work had more seniority, they would be able to bump me from my position” and was laid off a second time.
After hearing the second phone call, she also received an official layoff letter, which she said listed the wrong department name and wrote her as a temporary employee although her probationary work period already passed.
She contacted members of University Personnel to ask questions about the notice’s errors and to ensure the second notice was final but did not hear back for over three days. When contacted by University Personnel later on, she felt her questions about the layoff notice were still unanswered.
University Personnel was unable to give a response about the meeting with Scoggin by the publication date of this article.
Scoggin said, “Never before has that happened in my life and I’ve been laid off a couple of other times.”
In terms of relocating from her home in East Campus, Scoggin has yet to hear anything from the housing department or University Personnel, but is thankful for the information she has learned from her union, who “advised to not really do anything until [her] last day, until right at the end.”
Scoggin has felt discouraged while working the remainder of her last 90 days at CSUMB, but is still dedicated to students she oversees.
“It’s a passion of mine so it’s difficult for me to come to work every day and put in the hours and push through the pain of being treated this way, but I do it,” she said. “I will do it and I will continue to do it for the students.”