NAACP furloughs 80 workers

November 02, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

Unable to make its payroll, the NAACP has furloughed about 80 employees for two weeks and refused to guarantee they won't go without pay again.

Earl T. Shinhoster, NAACP interim senior administrator, said yesterday that the two-week furlough affects all but 29 NAACP employees across the country, whose salaries are paid with specially designated corporate and foundation funds.

Top managers, who are included in the furlough, and other volunteer employees will staff the civil rights group's Northwest Baltimore headquarters.

"We've obviously reached a point where we can't spend what we don't have," Mr. Shinhoster said.

Mr. Shinhoster said the furlough, an expansion of a previously announced austerity plan, would save the NAACP $220,000 in salaries. He said the NAACP decided on the move to avoid laying off any employees as the holidays approach.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People faces a deficit of nearly $4 million. The financial crisis, first revealed to the NAACP board six months ago, has since been compounded by controversies over the firing of then-Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. and the leadership of board Chairman William F. Gibson.

NAACP managers called staff members at home Sunday to tell them they would not receive their twice-monthly paychecks Nov. 11. Employees who reported for work Monday were told at an afternoon staff meeting that the NAACP's cupboard was bare.

"We really don't know when we'll get another paycheck," said Sandra Almond, president of Local 2202N of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents about 40 NAACP employees. "They would give us no guarantee."

Sallie Williams, a representative of AFSCME Council 67, said the fTC union will file a grievance today against the NAACP. In a letter to Mr. Shinhoster, Ms. Williams protested the NAACP's "refusal to meet and negotiate over this decision and its impact on employees."

Mr. Shinhoster said he wanted to maintain a "good-faith relationship" with the union.

This is the NAACP's second employee furlough this fall. In late September, employees who earn more than $22,000 a year were forced to take a week's unpaid furlough.

The current furlough affects employees regardless of income. Ms. Williams said AFSCME members make as little as $17,000 a year.

"Of course, we live from paycheck to paycheck," Ms. Williams said. "If you lose two weeks' pay without any notification, that really sets you back. Our membership was so upset and disgusted, they marched out after the meeting."

Mr. Shinhoster said money has been slow to come in from all revenue sources: memberships, corporate gifts, foundation grants and assessments due from 2,200 NAACP units around the country.

A large direct-mail fund-raising appeal has yet to go out for lack of postage, and now the NAACP faces the prospect of trying to raise money with only a skeleton staff. Mr. Shinhoster said 32 employees had volunteered to work without pay this week and next.

"We don't want to give the impression we are a dying breed on its last legs," Mr. Shinhoster said. "We will be, I'm sure, a phoenix that rises from the ashes."

Joseph E. Madison, a national board member from Montgomery County, said he was "absolutely livid" about the furloughs.

"As a former [NAACP] staff member, I know how overworked and underpaid staff people are under normal circumstances," he said. "There's just a lack of confidence in the leadership. That's the bottom line."

Mr. Madison said the board should call a special meeting to take a vote of no confidence in Dr. Gibson. Syndicated columnist Carl T. Rowan has accused the chairman of extravagant spending and accepting reimbursement for expenses already charged to the NAACP.

Dr. Gibson, who denies the allegations, could not be reached for comment. A secretary at his South Carolina dental office said he was out of town.

The NAACP board voted Oct. 15 in Baltimore to order an outside audit of all officers' expenses, going back to 1989.

Mr. Shinhoster said the decision to furlough staff came after a Saturday telephone conference call with the board's executive committee. The board has become more involved in the NAACP's management since Dr. Chavis was fired Aug. 20.

Dr. Chavis was dismissed after the board learned he had made a secret deal to pay Mary E. Stansel, a former aide, up to $332,400 in exchange for her dropping a threatened sexual-harassment lawsuit.

The Stansel deal and the burgeoning deficit raised questions among donors about how the NAACP was using their contributions. Mr. Shinhoster was named to restore credibility and rebuild membership. But just as he began those efforts, Dr. Gibson's spending came under attack. The chairman has headed the 64-member board since 1985.

The Ford Foundation has frozen the disbursement of a two-year, $500,000 grant to the NAACP pending management reforms. Mr. Shinhoster said that, with Ford's encouragement, legal and accounting experts were helping the NAACP restructure its finances and work out plans to pay its creditors. He said the Ford money was expected soon.

The AFL-CIO pledged $250,000 at the Oct. 15 board meeting, but has yet to deliver the funds.

Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore NAACP, said the city branch expects to be able to pay the $40,000 it owes the national office by year's end.

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