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Sierra Club staff in revolt, overwhelmingly vote “no confidence” in leadership as layoffs and mismanagement continue to hobble the organization

Washington D.C. – As the nation braces for the potential of a second Trump administration and the gutting of bedrock environmental protections, as well as the potential dismantling of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s most influential environmental organizations, is in disarray. In the past month, the organization has announced plans to lay off ten percent of its employees, the fourth such layoff in as many years, in an effort to return to pre-Trump 2016 staffing levels. 

“A second Trump term would launch a full fledged assault on all of our nation’s environmental protections,” said Erica Dodt, a Unit Representative and bargaining team member with PWU. “Now, more than ever, we need a strong climate movement that is ready to fight, and win, in order to defend the gains we have made on climate and environmental justice in the past four years. Sierra Club staffers are some of our nation’s most effective advocates, and our first line of defense against a conservative, anti-climate agenda. Now is the time to be increasing our capacity and investing in grassroots organizers to ensure that we are ready for anything – not blindly cutting staff in order to protect inflated executive salaries.”

In light of the layoffs and restructuring announced in late May, and the ongoing dysfunction of the organization since last year, both unions representing Sierra Club workers, Progressive Workers Union (PWU) and Sierra Employee Alliance (SEA), called a vote of “No Confidence” in Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous and his executive team, which passed with over 91.2 percent of voters approving the measure, and 82.3 percent of union members participating in the vote. In light of this response from their members, the unions submitted a letter to the Sierra Club Board of Directors calling on them to take immediate action to address the failure in leadership, and to terminate Jealous and his Executive Team.

“Sierra Club is falling apart. Its leaders are openly and actively union busting to the shock and dismay of partner groups, managers and chapters across the country. The vote of no confidence clearly shows the profound distrust and dissatisfaction that staff is feeling with Sierra Club’s leadership,” said CJ Garcia-Linz, PWU President. “We remain committed to protecting our members from attacks against our labor rights and to prevent layoffs, especially layoffs specifically targeted at breaking union leadership during contract bargaining.”

Progressive Workers Union (PWU) also filed a new Unfair Labor Practice charge against the Sierra Club last week in response to the organization’s failure to provide information necessary to bargain over layoffs, refusing to bargain in good faith over layoffs, and for placing employees on administrative leave to prevent them from organizing at work. Despite their plans going public to fire bargaining team members, including a pregnant employee, leaders doubled down on their retaliatory plans confirming on June 4 that they have listed three key union leaders for layoff and six union stewards. PWU now has a total of nine ULP’s filed against Sierra Club for review at the National Labor Review Board. 

“While budget cuts may be necessary, the Executive Team brought in under Ben Jealous’ leadership has intentionally distanced itself from the talented staff committed to our organizational mission. Sierra Club employees don’t work here for a big paycheck. Rather, they work at Sierra Club out of a deep commitment to protecting our environment. Yet, as Executive Team salaries have ballooned, those new leaders are slashing staff payroll, losing many employees with great institutional knowledge and key relationships to accomplishing our work,” said SEA’s Executive Committee. “Staff across the organization have lost faith in the priorities and direction of our leadership, which our members have voiced unanimously through this vote. We are committed to holding leadership accountable to our organizational values.”

PWU is now engaging in Impact Bargaining with Sierra Club over layoffs. During those negotiations, Sierra Club flatly denied strategic proposals from the union to save positions with executive pay cuts, voluntary furloughs and other measures. Instead, the organization said that by losing seven percent raises previously agreed to in contract bargaining, the union could “save” twelve members.  

In early May, Sierra Club’s Board of Directors unanimously passed a budget that would allow Sierra Club to lay off 10 percent of current staff and to stop backfilling many open positions. On May 23, Sierra Club sent notices to specific targeted staff that they could apply for a “Voluntary Layoff Program.” On May 30, Sierra Club informed many of those staff that they would be locked out of their computers the following week regardless of their decision on the voluntary program, a blatant violation of the collective bargaining agreement.