April 13, 2009

Univ. Accepts All 423 Staff Who Applied for Retirement Plan

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The University announced on Friday that it accepted all 423 Cornell employees who applied to participate in the optional Staff Retirement Incentive Program.
The SRI, which has originally publicized in February, aimed to reduce the size of the University’s workforce. Personnel costs for the University’s more than 10,000 employees comprise 60 percent of Cornell’s operating budget, according to Vice President for Human Resources Mary Opperman.
The University currently faces a shortfall of approximately $230 million in its operating budget.
Opperman said that the University will save money by eliminating “a majority” of the positions vacated by the 423 employees.
Although the employees could rescind their applications to the program through March, their acceptance is now binding and they must retire by June 30.
Each unit of the University will create new staffing plans to take these retirements into account, Opperman said. In some cases, the positions will be eliminated completely, but units will have to reorganize their employees in other situations.
While Opperman characterized the retirements as “fairly well-distributed across the campus,” she said that the staffing plans would vary because it is easier to reorganize resources in some units compared to others.
More people applied to the program than the University had anticipated, according to Opperman.
Cornell expected 10 to 15 percent of the approximately 1,300 employees eligible for the program to apply. The 423 people that applied represent a yield of about 30 percent.
All staff members over the age of 55 who had been working at the University for more than 10 years were eligible to apply for the incentive program throughout the month of March. The accepted employees will receive an “enhanced contribution” to their retirement accounts and an additional lump-sum payment based on their base salary.
Opperman said that the popularity of the program would decrease — but not eliminate — the need for more layoffs.
“I am very hopefully that it will reduce the need for layoffs, especially if we are able to keep most of these [positions] permanently vacant,” she said. “[But] it would be inaccurate for me to say that I think we’ll have no layoffs.”
The accepted employees were notified of their acceptances on Friday and will each receive more information in the mail on how to proceed with their retirement. The University will also begin to conduct group meetings to keep employees informed during the retirement process.
Decisions regarding the second Staff Phased Retirement Program, which will allow employees to reduce their hours to half time, have yet to be announced. This program was also announced February.
Opperman added that although the University will save costs by retiring such a relatively large number of employees, the loss of the individual employees would be difficult.
“We don’t normally retire this many people at once,” she said. “I’m just so afraid that who they are and all they’ve done is going to get lost in all the numbers.”
The 432 soon-to-be-retirees have, in total, worked at Cornell for over 11,000 years, she said.
The University plans to host a celebration of the contributions of the retiring employees later this year.
“These people are some of our longest serving, most dedicated, most loyal people,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine Cornell without them.”