Last week, I went to a union meeting at my university, to discuss the upcoming contract negotiations. Our particular contract allows departments to send us yearly 'pink slips' six months in advance of the end of the fiscal year, basically telling us that we may or may not have a job in six months. Of course, since the end of the fiscal year is June 30, the letters go out right around Christmas of the previous year. Merry Christmas!!!
Although my department has thankfully neglected to send these out (recognizing what a morale buster they are), apparently members of other departments have not been so lucky. So, at this union meeting there were probably five or six instructors from the same department who had received these rather ambiguous letters last December. Now, during a regular year, the letters are a reminder that our contracts could end in six months' time. In a year in which there is 9.5% unemployment in the state, administrators are talking about mandatory and voluntary furloughs, and we're being asked to cut our budgets anywhere from 5% to 12%, these letters take on a much more frightening tone.
Basically, the instructors who received the letters were incredibly anxious about what they meant: in other words, would they have a job, come June 30, or should they update their resumes, contact Human Resources, and set up their COBRA accounts pronto? It's a tough call. I'm not sure what I would do in their situations. Luckily, I have the second job, but my earnings are a drop in the bucket compared to my mortgage payment, let alone costs for utilities and food.
Here's what the experts would say my colleagues should do:
- Pad that emergency fund! Start tracking your spending, cut the fat in the budget and start sending any extra money to savings. You'll thank yourself later, whether you lose your job or not;
- If employees in your field typically receive a severance package, start researching this. You'll want to negotiate the best possible package when or if your layoff becomes reality. Of course, in my world (the field of education) there are no such things as severance packages! I suppose the six months' notice we receive is considered severance enough.
- Start becoming indispensable to your boss. The first to go (usually) are those who contribute the least. Make sure your supervisors know which projects you're working on as well as the outcomes.
- Start talking to friends, family members, neighbors, the postman, everyone you come into contact with about the opportunities that might be out there for you. Make networking your best friend--you never know what could come of it!
- Make sure you know the steps to apply for unemployment insurance. I, for one, would have no idea how to go about this. And because it can apparently take weeks for that first payment to come in, it's imperative that the paperwork is taken care of at the first possible opportunity.
- Balance adding money to savings accounts with paying down credit card debt. If you find that you won't be able to make your credit card payments, be sure to communicate with the credit companies---in this economy, they've heard it all before, and may be able to assist with a smaller payment temporarily.
- If you do lose your job, consider part time or temporary jobs in the interim that you might not have considered before. Waitressing, home health aide, data entry, anything to keep the money flowing could be of help, especially if unemployment insurance runs out.