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Washington, D.C. – Today, Sierra Club’s staff union, Progressive Workers Union (PWU), filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge against the organization, alleging that management created a layoff plan to retaliate against union leaders for bargaining and union activity. 

Anonymous sources in leadership made union leaders aware of names of over thirty represented workers under consideration for layoff. Those names indicate Sierra Club has plans to lay off half of the six person National Unit Bargaining Team and two members of PWU’s Executive Committee. This escalation by the Sierra Club comes after seven months of contentious bargaining, during which PWU has charged that Sierra Club is bargaining in bad faith, and almost exactly a year after the organization laid off over 100 employees, including over thirty union members. 

Among these leaders is National Unit Representative and Bargaining Team member, Erica Dodt, who was previously told by persons in leadership that Executive Director Ben Jealous ordered that her position be eliminated without just cause for her role in bargaining over Sierra Club’s 2023 layoffs– the subject of another ULP filed last fall. 

The other leaders named are PWU Trustee and bargaining team member Dylan Plummer, bargaining team member and former PWU President Z Gerdes, and PWU Secretary Andy Heaslet. PWU’s analysis suggests this plan also targets union stewards tasked with advising members from contract violations. 

Terminating or disciplining of union-represented employees by an employer in response to union activity is prohibited under the National Labor Relations Act and can be challenged before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Today’s filing is PWU’s eighth active ULP filed against Sierra Club in the past year. 

PWU has also voiced concern about the demographic makeup of the people named for potential layoff. Over half are Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC). This disproportionate impact echoes Sierra Club’s 2023 layoffs, of which BIPOC staff made up 48.5 percent.

Sierra Club’s Board of Directors is expected to vote on May 9 on a proposed budget, which is believed to include layoffs – the third round in four years. PWU has expressed its opposition to any reduction in staff until other measures to reduce alleged budget deficits are taken, including cutting unnecessary overhead expenses such as pay cuts for executive team members. 

President of Progressive Workers Union CJ Garcia Linz said: 

“We are deeply disturbed by the continued pattern of union-busting displayed by Sierra Club’s executive leadership. This is alarming the Sierra Club community, including organizational leaders and managers who care about their colleagues and value the union’s work to ensure a healthy, safe work environment for all. Sierra Club executives have purposefully slow-walked bargaining with the union ahead of these proposed layoffs. 

We must be clear here: if Sierra Club carries out any plan to fire union leaders and members of the bargaining team in retaliation for their efforts, it would be a gross violation of U.S. labor laws. These individuals carry the most knowledge and experience of bargaining and our contract – their layoffs would be devastating for our ongoing union negotiations. The Sierra Club Executive Team’s continued pursuit of reckless anti-union plans is tearing apart any internal trust this institution has left for its leaders.”

PWU has released the following statement:

After close to a year and a half under Ben Jealous and his Executive Team, it has become abundantly clear: Sierra Club must change course. Layoffs and restructuring have continued to fail to address budget problems, while significantly impacting the capacity and efficacy of our organization. While staff at the Sierra Club have been tightening our belts, Sierra Club’s Executive Team has added millions of dollars in executive salary and related expenses, all while some of our organization’s most effective and beloved leaders have departed. 

Instead of allowing the continued mismanagement of our organization’s budget, and the aggressive anti-union retaliation of senior management, the PWU Sierra Club Steering Committee continues to call on the Sierra Club Board to:

  1. Reject any proposed budget that would lead to a Sierra Club’s fourth round of layoffs since 2021 and build staff buy-in in the budget:
    • Facilitate more open discussion between the Board and executive leadership to foster budget transparency for staff and members
    • Review recently published salary information, and if necessary, cut executive expenses that fuel budget problems.
  2. Investigate changes in Sierra Club work culture and their impacts on our work, including:
    • Reasons for the sudden departures of longtime senior leaders and staff
    • Explanations for conflicting and confusing budget information (e.g. increases in spending on contractors, travel, and offices during a time of supposed budget shortfalls)
    • Decline in transparency between the Executive Team, campaign leadership, represented staff, and chapters.
  3. Foster dialogue across the organization:
    • The Board of Directors should host an open listening session with staff, senior management, and members to both share and hear about impacts of the restructure on our organization, the budget, and the state of our organization.