Local foundation in layoff dispute

October 10, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

Haymarket People’s Fund, a local foundation named for a famous moment in union organizing history, is laying off unionized staff members as part of a controversial downsizing, according to press releases and a Boston Globe article.

Haymarket Executive Director Tommie Hollis-Younger did not return a Gazette phone call for this article. Neither did United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1596, the union that represents the tiny four-person staff.

In a Sept. 25 press release and a letter sent to supporters in August, Haymarket said that layoffs and other staff changes will allow the foundation to continue grant-making at its current level.

“In these tough economic times money is tight for many funders that support social change,” the press release said. “Many are taking a break, and many have gone under. Haymarket’s Board of Directors has made a conscious decision to fund movement building in New England at the same level as the last several years.”

But that can only be done after “the difficult decision to reduce costs and lay off some staff according to the specific requirements of the Union contract,” the press release said.

Haymarket is a nonprofit foundation that provides grant money to other nonprofits, including such Jamaica Plain organizations as Spontaneous Celebrations and the Boston Tenant Coalition. Haymarket was established in 1974 and is now based at 42 Seaverns Ave.

Over the years, the foundation has given more than $25 million to grassroots “social change” organizations. It is named for the 1886 Haymarket Square incident in Chicago, a large union rally in support of the then-innovative idea of an eight-hour workday. During the rally, a bomb thrown at police officers and ensuing police gunfire killed several officers and dozens of civilians. Four pro-labor anarchists were executed for the bombing after a controversial trial. Haymarket Square remains a touchstone for unions and radical political movements.

Haymarket People’s Fund has frequently funded union commemorations. But now it finds itself on the management side of its own labor dispute.

In a Sept. 28 Globe article, a UAW representative said the union would fight Haymarket’s plans to lay off at least half of the four-person staff.

In the Globe article, Hollis-Younger said those layoffs were still under review. She also reportedly said another employee was reduced to part-time, while the fourth staff member voluntarily quit. Workers could be rehired next year if fund-raising improves, she reportedly said.

“We know that this is the hardest period of time in recent history for anyone to be without a job,” Haymarket said in its press release. “We will work hard to support and assist staff affected by the layoff in finding work in the non profit [sic] field.”

Hollis-Younger and Assistant Director Karla Nicholson, Haymarket’s only other staff members, are classed as management and not targeted for the layoff.

Hollis-Younger, a 20-year employee, reportedly plans to leave by the end of the year in a move she told the Globe is unrelated to the layoffs.

Many nonprofits have struggled in recent years as economic troubles have dried up funding sources. The situation may be even tougher in Massachusetts, and especially in JP, where hundreds of nonprofits compete for donors’ attentions.

In 2005, Haymarket was among 65 Greater Boston organizations that joined an ad hoc Nonprofit Crisis Task Force to address the funding crunch.

In its August letter to supporters, Haymarket said it has “an ongoing organizational deficit [that] is not sustainable.” The letter did not specify the size of the deficit. But Hollis-Younger reportedly told the Globe that Haymarket has annual operating costs of $500,000 that equals its grant-making fund-raising.

“We have taken the painful step of reducing organizational overhead resulting in a smaller staff at the fund,” Haymarket said in its August letter. “Once this process is completed, our expectation is that Haymarket will be a more efficient organization and we are convinced that our grantmaking programs will be greatly improved.”

Best of JP 2014