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‘It gets better after 10 years:’ Former Miami employee recounts his 2010 layoff

<p>When Perry Gordon found out about the recent 39 layoffs, he was reminded of his own painful layoff experience.</p>

When Perry Gordon found out about the recent 39 layoffs, he was reminded of his own painful layoff experience.

When he got the call, Perry Gordon was walking down Oak Street, braving the cold winter weather to write parking tickets on Miami University's campus. This wasn’t typically part of his job as the director of parking and transportation services, a position he had held since September 2007.  That day, though — Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 — was a slow one. 

“You need to get to HR,” his wife, Kate Stoss, said, on the other end of the line.  “You need to get to Roudebush right away.” 

By the tone of his wife’s voice, Gordon could tell something was wrong, so he walked across campus to meet Stoss, the human resources (HR) director of compensation, employment and technology.

As Gordon walked into the room, he saw his wife’s boss, Carol Hauser, the senior director of HR, sitting with her, and at that moment, he knew what this meeting was about. 

“We regret to inform you, due to budgetary decisions, your position as director of parking and transportation services has been eliminated,” Hauser said. 

The budget cuts weren’t news to Gordon. The university had been slowly eliminating positions for about a year in the wake of the Great Recession. He had heard rumors months earlier about his position and his assistant director’s position possibly being eliminated. But he hadn’t heard anything since and assumed it wasn’t true. 

Because he was married to Stoss, Gordon heard a lot about position eliminations — it was her job to carry out the layoffs. (Stoss preferred not to speak with The Miami Student for this story but confirmed Gordon’s recollection of events.)

At first, the layoffs were limited to people she didn’t know. Then, she had to layoff acquaintances and soon friends, as hundreds of positions across the university were eliminated. 

And on that cold, wintery day, she sat across from her husband knowing she’d have to do the same. 

Hauser told The Student that layoff meetings typically occurred between the vice president of the department or immediate supervisor, HR and the employee. She said she didn’t remember Gordon’s specific layoff.

Stoss and Hauser explained that budget cuts necessitated moving parking services, which used to be its own department based in the Housing, Dining and Guest Services office, under the purview of the Miami University Police Department (MUPD). Effective the following Tuesday, the departments would merge. 

Gordon questioned why he couldn’t keep his job even as the department moved. He used to work for MUPD, both as a police officer and an administrator, and he still had a state certification as a police officer. 

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“So you’re just going to hand it to someone who has neither the experience nor the desire to be the new parking head?” he asked. 

Hauser didn’t have an answer. The decision had already been made. 

Hauser began walking him through what the layoff would mean, explaining things like professional leave and severance pay. 

“Carol, I understand you have to do this,” Gordon said. “You’ve got your routine, and I understand all that, but I think Kate can explain it to me if it’s ok.”

He could tell this was upsetting all three of them. 

“It felt like shit,” he said. 

***

Gordon later learned the entire story behind that meeting in Roudebush. Originally, he had a meeting scheduled with Bill Moloney, his immediate supervisor, at 4 p.m. that Friday at Cook Place, on the east side of Cook Field. 

Moloney said he wanted to talk about budget planning, and Gordon didn’t think anything of it. Dealing with the department’s finances was part of his job, and he had been working with Moloney recently to figure out income and expenditures for the coming year. 

Stoss heard that someone in her office had been asked to attend a meeting at 4 p.m. that same Friday at Cook Place. She thought it was strange — both that no one had mentioned it to her and that someone from HR was going to Cook Place on a Friday afternoon. 

She approached Hauser, asking what the meeting was for. Eventually, Hauser told her Gordon was being laid off. 

It was then that Stoss called her husband, wanting to give him the news herself. 

To Gordon, the whole situation felt like “a bad mob hit.” 

***

That next Monday, Gordon called all his employees into the Campus Avenue Building conference room to tell them the news. He wanted them to hear it from him before rumors started circulating. 

As he looked at the small staff of about 14 people who worked under him, he saw mixed emotions. Some people were teary-eyed, and some were mad. 

“We thought he was joking when we heard,” said Conrad Wright, who worked under Gordon at the time. 

Gordon addressed the situation, telling his staff as much as he could. 

“They’re telling me, ‘It’s not me, it’s my position,’” Gordon said. 

“What’s the difference?” one employee asked. 

They questioned if there was anybody else from the department losing their jobs. They wanted to know who they could talk to about it. 

Gordon didn’t know. 

Sherry Martin Hampton, former program associate for parking and transportation services, said Gordon was a good boss, well-liked — the “dad of the office.” 

“I think we were pretty tight-knit like a family, and we were pretty devastated to have the head of our department laid off,” she said. “It was like ‘what are we going to do?’ … There was a lot of confusion, more panic, more worry.” 

 

The person who absorbed Gordon’s parking duties, in Wright’s opinion, “didn’t know anything about parking whatsoever.”

“We were like, ‘What’s going on?’” Wright said. “‘He’s the most competent person. And if he came back, he would still be the most competent person to take the position in parking.’”

***

Within about a week, Gordon received his layoff notice and severance package. But when it came to placement assistance or job counseling, he wasn’t given much help. 

Hauser suggested he speak with the Career Center, which she said was standard practice. He spoke with a man who tried to be helpful, but the center was focused on helping undergraduate students looking for entry-level jobs and wasn’t really equipped to handle someone older with more experience. 

From there, Gordon was sent to Miami’s Voice of America (VOA) Learning Center in West Chester, Ohio, to speak with someone who deals with professional development. 

That person gave him a copy of “What color is your parachute,” a self-help book for job-seekers, and nothing else.

***

Gordon and Stoss worried about how they were going to make ends meet without his job. 

But Gordon was better off than most people in his position. He and his wife both had good salaries at Miami. He taught one English class a semester in addition to his job in parking. He also worked part-time at Hueston Woods State Park, a job he would continue after his position was eliminated at Miami. He started full-time at the park in 2013 and worked there until his retirement from the position in 2017. 

Later that week, Gordon approached Steve Schwein, the then-chief of OPD, and told him he had been laid off. 

“I’m going to be available pretty damn soon,” he said. 

Gordon asked if they had any positions available. He would do anything, from being a dispatcher to an officer to a meter maid writing parking tickets. 

On March 31, he was sworn in as a part-time officer and worked at OPD while finishing his job at Miami. 

During his last few months, Gordon was supposed to help with the transition, but he said not many people reached out to him. It was business as usual. 

“Everything had changed, and in a way nothing had changed,” he said. 

Gordon’s official end date was June 30, but Gordon had a lot of vacation time saved up and finished on June 2. 

In 2012, Schwein retired, and Bob Holsworth took over as interim chief, vacating a position as supervisor of parking. Gordon was then able to return to parking work again, still working part-time at OPD.

Since 2015, Gordon has worked as the property officer, maintaining inventory records on evidence. It took five years for his gross income to reach the level it was before he was laid off at Miami. 

***

Two weeks ago, Gordon picked up a copy of The Miami Student and saw the headline, “Budget reallocations leave 39 Miami employees without jobs.” He noticed the date: Jan. 28, 2020 — exactly ten years since the day he was called into his wife’s office. 

Gordon doesn’t resent anyone for what happened then. 

“I don’t think there’s any villains or evildoers,” he said. “People had to make hard decisions.”

He still doesn’t know whose decision it was to lay him off. He’s doing well now, though, and he has a job that he loves. 

“It gets better after 10 years.”

@racheldberry

berryrd@miamioh.edu 

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