N.Y. federation cuts 11 percent of its staff

NEW YORK (JTA) — The country’s largest Jewish federation became the latest major organization to downsize in the face of the recession.

The UJA-Federation of New York, which raised some $153 million in its annual campaign last year, announced Wednesday that it was cutting 52 employees — slightly more than 11 percent of its staff.

The layoffs, along with the decision to eliminate 20 staff positions that are now unfilled and other administrative cuts will save the federation an estimated $7.4 million, according to federation officials.

Thus far in 2009, the federation is 10 percent behind in its fund-raising pledges compared to the previous year, and it is 12 percent behind on collections. The federation’s $675 million endowment has also shrunk by 25 percent, making the cuts necessary, its top professional said Wednesday.

“We took a very broad look at the situation and we are doing everything we can to hold our agencies as a whole together,” the federation’s executive vice president and CEO, John Ruskay, told JTA. “We made a commitment to see where we were at the first of the year.

"The state of the economy is increasingly grim. Cash collections are down. And by end of January we have been working diligently about this and tyring to figure out how to do this as carefully and deliberately as possible.”

The organization, which funds hundreds of nonprofits in New York and abroad, also will reduce allocations slightly. And it will use money from its endowment to pay for an $8.9 million deficit it anticipates for 2010. The federation also has cut traveling expenses, reduced its budget for events and instituted a salary freeze.

Sixty percent of the layoffs came from the professional side and 40 percent were administrative.

Staffers laid off were informed individually Wednesday. Later in the day, Ruskay sent an e-mail to the entire staff announcing the cuts.

Ruskay told JTA that he does not anticipate further cuts in the foreseeable future.

“We believe we have made a very careful projection for right now and the year beginning July 1, and assuming the floor doesn’t drop out of either the economy or the campaign, we think we are set for the next 15 months at least,” he said.

That projection includes whatever fund-raising hit the federation anticipates from its donor base that lost money in the Ponzi scheme of Bernard Madoff, whose victims were heavily concentrated in New York.

New York joins others Jewish federations in enacting layoffs. Earlier this month, the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland announced that it was laying off 25 employees and trimming $600,000 from its operating budget.

Some of the federation staffers in New York apparently were caught unaware, according to one laid-off employee.

“There was no warning," said the employee, who did not wish to be identified. "The management did everything to assure us they would do everything to avoid layoffs. When we had to negotiate our union contracts, we agreed not to take a cost-of-living increase to avoid layoffs."

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