Sierra Club announces layoffs, restructuring

By Robin Bravender | 04/28/2023 04:19 PM EDT

“We are retooling for this climate moment,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous.

Ben Jealous speaks

Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club, speaks during a rally and protest March 21 in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP Photo

The Sierra Club on Friday announced an organizational overhaul that will include layoffs as well as new hires as the group aims to cut costs and expand its efforts in red states.

The environmental group’s board voted Thursday night to approve a 2023 budget that “will require creating new positions, eliminating some old positions, and re-imagining other positions,” the organization’s Deputy Executive Director Ana Yáñez Correa told staff in an internal email Friday.

“Without these changes, our budget would have ballooned to a deficit as high as $40 million,” Correa said.


The total layoff number hasn’t been finalized, Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous said in an interview Friday. The organization is following its collective bargaining agreement with unionized employees, Jealous said, and staff members who are laid off could land in new positions.

Jealous took the helm of the roughly 800-person environmental organization earlier this year.

He inherited an annualized budget deficit of $40 million, a hiring freeze and a mandate from the board “to manage things so that we would never realize such a deficit,” Jealous said.

The Sierra Club expects the overall size of its staff to be roughly the same following its restructure.

A major focus of the restructuring, Jealous said, will be to ensure that the Sierra Club has a director in all 50 states. The group now has directors in 38 states and is in the process of hiring for eight more states.

“We are retooling for this climate moment, and that means retooling to be strong everywhere across the country,” Jealous said.

That’s particularly important given the time frames in the new climate law to get money out the door to build a new green economy, he added.

“Eighty-seven percent of large-scale renewable projects are going into red jurisdictions,” he said. But the Sierra Club doesn’t have a state director in “about two-thirds of the red states,” said Jealous, who was previously the Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland and CEO of the NAACP.

“In the past,” he added, “maybe we could get away with not having a state director” in some cases. But in the world of the Inflation Reduction Act “and the world of climate disasters everywhere, that’s no longer the case,” he said.

Jealous said there weren’t particular campaigns or departments taking the brunt of the layoffs.

“It’s pretty across the board,” he said. “Every department has been asked to make hard decisions.”

Jealous was slated to address the organization’s employees Friday afternoon on an all-staff call.

The Sierra Club employee union Progressive Workers United opposes the layoff plan and issued a statement Friday criticizing what they called a “lack of transparency” from management.

“We have been left out of key conversations, so we don’t know how this will work,” said CJ Garcia-Linz, president of the Progressive Workers Union and a Sierra Club employee. “We’re concerned about what it means for our partners and community” and about how the layoffs will impact those who stay with the organization.

“We all would rather just be doing the work of saving the planet rather than having these meetings and these conversations,” Garcia-Linz said.