Wednesday, April 1, 2009

UNM Press Employees Stunned By Outsourcing and Layoffs.

ALBUQUERQUE—Despite months of budget-cutting and assurances from upper management that jobs were not in jeopardy, employees of UNM Press were left stunned yesterday by announcements of layoffs and possible outsourcing of their jobs.

In an email on Thursday, business manager Richard Schuetz announced that proposals to outsource the Press’s order fulfillment operations, including warehousing, shipping, receiving, and all customer service functions, had been solicited to outside companies.

Martin Salazaar with the ABQJOURNAL reported UNM Press will end the fiscal year with a $690,000 operating deficit. Prior year deficits have already left it with a $1.6 million debt.

Affected departments oversee the fulfillment of all UNM Press publications, as well as books for more than thirty client publishers, including the Museum of New Mexico Press, New Mexico Magazine, West End Press, La Alameda Press, Fresco Fine Art Publications, and the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.

The outsourcing “initiative” could affect nine full-time and part-time employees and three student employees if deemed a more cost effective means than the current distribution set-up.

Though no time line was offered for how long the possibly affected twelve customer service and shipping employees would retain jobs, Schuetz said the proposal process is expected to take two to four months.

Two employees, Glenda Madden, marketing and sales manager for the press for seven years and a thirty-three-year university press publishing veteran, and Lisa Pacheco, a junior acquisitions editor, were told April 30 would be their last day at the press. The press’s publicity department was also told to cut one job from its two-person staff, the result of which is pending.

“If it’s decided that outsourcing is financially and operationally advantageous, the transition would probably take another 1-2 months,” Schuetz wrote in the email. “And if it’s decided to outsource, every effort will be made to absorb employees whose jobs are being outsourced into other university vacancies.”

Though the possibility of the press maintaining customer-service and warehousing operations seems slim, employees were told in Schuetz’s email that “no decision to outsource has been made and no decision to lay off Customer Service and Warehouse employees has been made.”

Press publicist Amanda Sutton, an eight-year publishing professional who has been with the press for five years, was called by Richard Schuetz to a meeting with Luther Wilson, press director, mid-morning on Monday.

Mr. Wilson, after citing the recession and the press’s operating deficit, asked Ms. Sutton to decide whether she would remain on staff or whether her assistant of three years, Katherine MacGilvray, would be let go.

“I have a difficult time determining the fate of a fellow colleague, to whom I owe much loyalty and respect. Sacrificing up a colleague is not part of my job description,” says Ms. Sutton.

Following the meeting with Ms. Sutton, Schuetz called in Glenda Madden and Lisa Pacheco, alerting them to their terminations as of April 30. Schuetz and Wilson then called a press-wide staff meeting at 11:30A.M.

A quiet room of press employees listened as Mr. Wilson, who invoked similar lay-offs six years ago that left six press employees jobless, talked about publishing’s move into an electronic world and the need to “trim” staff.

The atmosphere became heated when Wilson announced that there were no plans to move an existing employee into the marketing manager position, nor plans to hire a replacement in the foreseeable future.

When asked how the lack of a supervisory position in marketing would affect clients and overall press distribution and sales, Wilson quickly dismissed any notion of a negative impact.

“We will have four employees in marketing who will be able to handle themselves with little oversight,” Wilson said.

Marketing employees whose jobs remain are now feeling the blow. “What the entire staff finds most frustrating is that Vice Provost Wynn Goering was made aware of staff concerns last year,” notes Christina Frain, Advertising and Exhibits Manager and Fundraising Coordinator.

“On December 10, 2008, a group representing the staff met with Mr. Goering, and expressed concerns about management decisions and the short and long term affects of those decisions on the Press. That team provided a comprehensive list of possible solutions along with a binder full of documentation.

The layoffs and the possibility of outsourcing came out of the blue. Even though the UNM Press staff is one of the most experienced in the book publishing business, they were never consulted by the Provost or Mr. Wilson regarding the development of long term solutions for the viability and success of the Press. We were only asked how to cut expenses.”

“The loss of the Marketing and Sales Manager and a Publicist will have a devastating impact on our sales,” Ms. Frain asserts, “We are already hamstrung by cuts in advertising, direct mail, travel for direct sales, and exhibits.

Both members of the publicity team are extremely well connected in the media world and have been landing key coverage about UNM Press books in spite of budget cut-backs.

The books, their authors, and our client publishers, will only see negative results if these layoffs go through.”

Late Monday afternoon, Schuetz, a former Air Force colonel, sent a follow-up email to employees. “I cannot be here tomorrow because of prior commitments but I would like to meet on Wednesday if possible to begin talking about how we will operate under the new organizational arrangement,” Schuetz wrote. “I know this will not be easy for a lot of reasons and will involve a number of changes but I think we can make it work. We don't have any other choice.”

Luther Wilson left the office early Monday afternoon. Neither Wilson nor Schuetz, whose combined salaries total approximately $250,000 has offered to take a pay-cut. Employees note Mr. Wilson’s fiscally damaging acquisitions and misuse of press funds as one source of the press’s financial problems. Mr. Wilson has spent thousands of dollars so far in this fiscal year on author lunches and just issued a $6,000 advance to a longtime friend for a children’s book proposal. Press advances, which at most university presses are rare, seldom exceed $1,500.

“Everyone thinks outsourcing is the solution to publishing’s current woes,” explains Clark Whitehorn, UNM Press Editor-in-Chief, “but we don’t yet have the numbers to confirm that assessment.”

When press staff asked Wilson and Schuetz in the staff meeting for the cost of in-house fulfillment vís-a-vís possible savings on outsourcing, Wilson and Schuetz said they couldn’t provide those numbers.

“I went through a customer service and warehousing/distribution outsourcing in 1984 at another university press,” says Ms. Madden. “It was a nightmare. We had no immediate access to our inventory count, our authors and customers had to wait weeks for books they earlier received in a matter of days, and sometimes hours if they picked them up.

The outsourcing lasted 4 years before the press absorbed the cost of shipping the entire inventory to a new warehouse. We lost many customers who couldn't get our books in that 4-year span.”

“In addition to laying off at least nine dedicated employees, outsourcing is a slap in the face to the community, state, and region that UNM Press has served so well for eighty years,” Madden concludes.





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4 comments:

hrgottlieb said...

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Anonymous said...

“We will have four employees in marketing who will be able to handle themselves with little oversight,” Wilson said.

What this means is: "We will expect four employees to continue doing all of their own work, and to add on all the extra work a manager would perform, but we will not pay them any additional salary or reclassify them into a management category."

This is a classic UNM business model that has happened to many others (including yours truly) over the past 20 years. I'm glad to see this tactic being exposed again and hope that employees who are treated like this will find their backbones and quickly locate other employment. My message to them: don't take this treatment. You CAN land on your feet.

FarmerGiles said...

Ditto my friends, ditto! They're leaving you in the lurch--what do you really have to lose?

Anonymous said...

All too familiar. Similar hack management has been going on at SUNY Press since the beginning of 2008.