The future in the face of furloughs

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Sachs Administration Building (C Building) on NEIU's main campus.

Rut Ortiz, News Editor

Students who will be fired from their campus jobs during the furloughs imposed during spring break can expect to get back to work soon after.

“We’re going to try to do that immediately after the five furlough days in spring break is to hire as many back as we can,” said Interim President Richard Helldobler said in an interview.

Unfortunately not all of the employees who are laid off can expect a call back.

“We’re not bringing back any temporary employees, we’re keeping those off the payroll until further notice,” Helldobler said.

Helldobler continued that if the university does not get another stopgap budget or appropriation before May 15, NEIU would need to implement three additional furlough days in order to stay afloat. Those affected by the furlough days can expect an approximate 20 percent of their income cut.

The message recently went out that NEIU would impose furlough days during the five days of spring break. University administration will spread those days over five weeks. An open meeting held on March 7 allowed the NEIU community, unions and bargaining groups – such as AFSCME Council 31 and UPI Local 4100 – to come and express their thoughts on cuts faculty and staff were going to experience for the second time since last year.

Timothy Libretti, English department chair, said that state politicians see that NEIU continues to run without a state budget and the university ends up running on fumes.

“We need to find a way to transfer that stress and responsibility and there has to be a moment where you say, ‘No More. Fund us or close us,’” he said to a room full of applause.

A conversation of frustrated faculty going on strike also occurred at the open meeting.

“It would be really horrible for the university but I can certainly understand and appreciate their frustration. They’ve been going at this for 20 months and we asked them to (take furloughs) last year and many faculty and staff haven’t recovered financially,” Helldobler said. “I understand the burden that this putting on everybody.”

Although the conversation of going on strike was applauded during the open meeting, a “no-strike” clause in AFSCME’s contract with the NEIU administration would prevent them from going on strike.

A faculty strike would also affect the UPI as confirmed by NEIU Chapter President Sophia Mehic. She said that students do not have to be concerned about coming back from spring break to find their teachers gone.

“That’s absolutely not the case,” Mehic said. “There is no way we could strike in that first week.”

However, the amount of money necessary to carry NEIU through to the next fiscal year is not a small amount.

Michael Pierick, vice-president of finance and administration, gave a presentation at the beginning of the open meeting and explained that in order to keep NEIU operational through June 30, the university would need to cut expenses by approximately $8.2 million.

The salary-saving program and spending freeze would cut that number down to about $2.8 million, an amount of expenses that still need to be cut to keep the school open and faculty members addressed their questions to university leadership about getting attention from the politicians in Springfield.

“The spring break furloughs worry me because people aren’t paying attention,” Libretti said. “Having (furloughs) over spring break is going to make us much less visible.”

Mehic said that Springfield politicians need to know that NEIU is at a crisis point. “I think taking the furloughs maybe papering over the crisis and they’re not seeing how bad things are,” she said. “I can’t imagine another year like this. I didn’t think we would be in this position this year after what we did last year.”

The trickle down effect of the budget impasse will close the childcare facility on NEIU’s campus. The campus will be closed down during the furlough days and will only have “a very skeletal police crew and custodial staff” according to Helldobler.

“Because we don’t have a full custodial, engineer and police staff, it’s a health and safety issue for me,” Helldobler said.

NEIU’s main campus is expected to resume business after spring break.