The debt-burdened NAACP laid off nearly a third of its staff yesterday and moved to shut down three of its seven regional offices, according to a union official familiar with the job cuts.
Sallie Williams of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) said the nation's oldest and largest civil rights group would lay off 22 employees at its Baltimore headquarters and around the country.
"I expect them to lay off some more people," Ms. Williams said. "The money is just not there."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is based in Northwest Baltimore's Seton Business Park, faces a $3.8 million debt.
Linda Hursey, an NAACP spokeswoman, said acting Executive Director Earl T. Shinhoster spent all afternoon yesterday notifying employees individually of the layoffs. Today, she said, he will disclose plans to restructure the organization, which has more than 400,000 members.
Tonya Berkley, a 32-year-old widowed mother of two children, is one of the employees laid off yesterday. She said Mr. Shinhoster told her that her job would end in 30 days -- two days before she turns 33.
"I'm getting fired for my birthday," said Mrs. Berkley, who said she started working as an administrative assistant in the finance department just a month ago. She said she turned down two other jobs to accept the NAACP position because she wanted to work for the civil rights organization.
"I felt that at this point in my career I would do more for the African-American community by working here," she said. "I believed I could make an impact to help straighten out the budget problems, and took that on as a challenge."
Mrs. Berkley said learning her fate has brought closure after worrying about losing her job.
Ms. Williams said 11 of the 22 people laid off were members of Local 2202-N of AFSCME, which represents clerical employees. She said five of the union members were based at headquarters and six at regional offices. She didn't know which three regional offices will be shut down.
When the layoffs take effect, the NAACP's national staff will be reduced to about 50, including only 17 members of Local 2202-N. Another 29 employees of the NAACP's Community Development Resource Centers in the Southeast are paid from special grants and were not affected.
Ms. Williams said the laid off union members were paid from $18,000 to $28,000 a year.
Most NAACP employees spent up to two months on unpaid furlough last fall because the group couldn't make its payroll.
"They thought this would help reduce the deficit and their jobs would be secure," Ms. Williams said. "To hear last week that there would be more layoffs, this is devastating."
Despite a leadership shake-up in which the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. was fired last August and then-Chairman William F. Gibson was defeated in February, the organization has not been able to improve its financial situation.
Ms. Williams said Mr. Shinhoster told her that the group's board had ordered him to cut spending by $2.5 million over the rest of 1995.
While she was at NAACP headquarters, Ms. Williams said, a truck pulled up with boxes of records that had been taken out of storage because the organization owed $6,000 in rent. She said the records were stacked in the cafeteria.
The financial troubles first surfaced in May 1994 when the civil rights group's board suddenly found out that the organization was $2.7 million in debt. The crisis was compounded in July when it was revealed that Dr. Chavis had committed up to $332,400 in NAACP funds to settle a threatened sexual-harassment claim. The negative publicity slowed contributions.
In February, Myrlie B. Evers-Williams defeated Dr. Gibson by one vote for the chairmanship. She has pledged to rebuild the NAACP, saying, "the first priority for our new leadership must be to put our financial house in order."
Employees interviewed at NAACP headquarters yesterday said morale has been low since officials announced that layoffs would be made.
Karen Jackson, an administrative assistant for the organization's
Crisis magazine, did not lose her job. But she said yesterday was particularly gloomy as she learned that fellow employees had lost theirs. "It's sad, very sad," Ms. Jackson said. "In this day in time, everybody needs a job. You feel bad, but there's nothing you can do but support them."
Despite the problems, she said she remained optimistic about the future of the NAACP, which has been in the forefront of civil rights battles since it was founded in 1909.