More layoffs at Sierra Club

By Robin Bravender | 05/20/2024 04:24 PM EDT

The green group announced another wave of layoffs this year, citing budget shortfalls. 

The Sierra Club's offices are seen in Washington, D.C.

The Sierra Club's offices are seen in Washington on Oct. 26, 2023. Francis Chung/POLITICO

The Sierra Club announced more employee layoffs Monday, marking the second round of staff cuts in just over a year at the green group beset by budget woes and infighting between management and its staff union.

The group plans to eliminate about 88 open positions and approximately 72 existing positions, it said. The layoffs are expected to reduce the current workforce by about 10 percent, bringing the total number of employees in the Sierra Club’s chapter and national staff down to 718 from a high in 2022 of 913.

The layoffs mark the second straight year that the Sierra Club has laid off staff since Executive Director Ben Jealous took over in February 2023. In April of that year, he announced staff cuts and an organizational overhaul that he said would help combat a budget deficit he inherited and put the group in a position to expand its efforts in red states.


Jealous has been publicly sparring with Sierra Club union members for much of his tenure, and Monday’s announcement, which had been expected, is certain to exacerbate tensions within the organization.

More staff cuts are needed to balance the group’s budget, the Sierra Club told its employees Monday.

The Sierra Club’s board of directors Saturday approved a budget aimed at bringing revenue in line with expenses by 2025 after years of expenses outpacing revenue, the organization said Monday. The group said a balanced budget covering calendar years 2024 and 2025 will require cuts of $36.8 million, including cutting about $15.3 million from nonworkforce expenses and $21.5 million from workforce reductions.

“The 2024 and 2025 budgets unanimously passed by our board are a significant reset that will stabilize the Sierra Club following four years of difficult budget decisions,” Sierra Club spokesperson Jonathon Berman said Monday in an email.

“Funding flowed and staffing grew rapidly when we were fighting Donald Trump’s attacks on the environment but the economic environment has changed since that time,” Berman said. “This necessitates the Sierra Club having to return to 2017 funding levels which means also returning to 2017 staffing levels. Given the current revenue available and our inability to tap into our reserves as we have in previous years, we were unable to achieve balanced budgets for 2024 and 2025 without reducing our current workforce.”

The Progressive Workers Union, a union that represents Sierra Club workers, said it was “devastated about the ongoing mismanagement of the Sierra Club and our hearts are with everyone in the Sierra Club community being affected by these disastrous layoffs.”

“Since Ben Jealous was hired to lead the organization, management has launched a union-busting campaign against workers, hired expensive consultants and undergone drastic leadership turnover while adding millions of dollars in executive salaries,” the union said in a statement Monday.

The union accused the Sierra Club of laying off employees “with the possibility of a second Trump presidency threatening a complete assault on our environment,” and said that the group’s management “refused to reveal how the budget is being distributed and to clearly define why these cuts are necessary, especially when the Sierra Club is spending untold amounts on expensive outside counsel attorneys, consultants, and travel for executives.”

The employee union also said it’s preparing for a possible strike.

“We are committed to engage in Impact Bargaining with Sierra Club to defend our members from layoffs and to secure the best possible benefits for everyone,” the union said. “We are prepared to exercise our legally protected rights in order to fight back against the ongoing union-busting, bad faith bargaining, and mismanagement of our organization. As such, PWU leadership has asked our members to vote to authorize a strike, and is investigating other tactics that we can take in order to protect our union and the organization as a whole.”

The Sierra Club held calls with employees Monday to detail the next steps.

The group said that while revenue has been relatively flat from 2017 until 2024, the costs of salaries and benefits have nearly doubled during that time.

To boost revenue, the Sierra Club said its executive director and other leaders will dedicate “significant time and effort to fundraising” in 2024 and 2025. They plan to boost how many direct reports managers oversee and delay the plan to hire chapter directors in all 50 states.

The group has eliminated three chief level positions, it said, and nonunion staff will not receive 4 percent pay increases this year.

The Sierra Club said it is planning a voluntary severance program to eliminate some positions. Layoff notifications for nonunion members will be announced June 5, and layoffs for nonunion members will be complete by July 19, the group said.