Employees open up about being laid off

Cassie Buchman, Administration Editor

Even with all her other responsibilities at Eastern, Pat Sparks, an office support specialist for Andrews and Thomas Halls, was still able make meaningful connections with many students.

Sparks, like many of the faculty and staff members at Eastern, was told she was being laid off in August.

Sparks said the best part of her job was interacting with the students.

“I really enjoyed the kids,” she said. “They are like my own children. I’m like a second mom to them. Some have been here since they were freshmen, now they’re seniors.”

The fact that the students loved Sparks so dearly made leaving that much more difficult for her.

“That’s going to be the hard part, missing the kids,” she said.

As an office support specialist, Sparks did key and money audits, handled desk equipment, games, and questions from freshmen and other students.

Sparks said she was told that Sept. 18 would be her last day.

This was not something she expected at first.

“I anticipated being moved, I did not anticipate being shut out and having nowhere to go on campus after 25 years,” she said.

Because she has worked on campus for so long, Sparks thought she would have “bumping rights,” meaning she could choose to move to a different position on campus. However, bumping rights are based on an employee’s seniority in the position they are currently working at, and Sparks has worked many during her time at Eastern.

“I got an upgrade on my job a couple of years ago, so I knew I was not real high on the seniority list,” she said. “But I have been the staff clerk, the chief clerk, the cashier.”

Because of the years and the many jobs she has worked for Eastern, Sparks thought she would still have a place.

“I figured between holding several positions, I’d be able to be bumped somewhere. I do feel like there had to be something wrong,” she said.

Anne Youakim, an office support specialist in Taylor and Lawson Halls, who was laid off around the same time, said she did not think it was fair.

“If you take a promotion to better yourself, and you end up fired, that’s not fair,” she said.

Sparks said she knew of other individuals on campus who were just as shocked as she was, including another colleague who has also been at Eastern for more than 20 years.

“We’ve given all these years to the university, and we’re just left hanging. We’re done.” she said.

Despite her shock, Sparks feels no anger toward the university itself.

“I won’t say I’m angry, I was just floored and shocked,” she said.

After being laid off, Sparks had the difficult task of telling her family members that she was no longer working at Eastern.

She said they knew her job would change, but they did not know to what extent.

“They were expecting me to tell them something,” Sparks said. “They were not expecting me to say Sept. 18 is my last day.”

The question of how will she now afford insurance, which was formerly provided by the university, now lingers in Sparks’ mind.

“The cost to pick up insurance is quite high,” she said. “There’s no way in the world to get enough in unemployment to pay the $1,000 a month.”

Sparks is also thankful for some of the measure the university has taken to help out those who have been laid off.

The university provided information on unemployment, career services and ways to find new jobs.

Sparks was also given a clearance sheet, which she will use when returning items back to the university.

“The clearance sheet is to make sure I don’t have any keys and library cards,” Sparks said. “I don’t even get to keep my panther card because it’s university property.”

Like Sparks, Youakim thought she would also have bumping rights, but after an email was sent to all employees saying that layoffs would occur she started to have doubts.

“When I got a phone call, I kind of knew,” she said. “It felt like someone hit me in the stomach.”

Youakim, who worked as a teacher before coming to Eastern, will now put her name on the substitute list and try to find work that way.

“It’s going to be hard,” she said. “I’m not 20 anymore.”

Like Sparks, Youakim also had family she had to tell the news to.

In Youakim’s case, she had to break the news to her husband.

“He did say we’ll have to tighten our belts,” she said. “It will be tight financially.”

Both Sparks and Youakim said something they will focus on in their last moments at Eastern is keeping up a strong facade for the students they work with.

“You can’t let the kids know, especially with parents moving in,” Youakim said. “You have to try not let them know it affects you. ”

She said the week of move-in was probably the worst time for the layoffs to occur.

The layoff notices were given to the hall secretaries during what Sparks said was the “busiest time of the year,” which was a few days before move-in.

“Now, I’ve got extra stuff I need to be doing, like researching and making a decision on what I’m doing,” Sparks said.

Although she was visibly upset about being laid off, even tearing up when speaking about it, Youakim said her faith along with the support from her husband will help her.

“Whatever happens, happens for a reason,” Youakim said.

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]