The group that brought down Keystone XL faces their own agonies


A June 2020 report from a consultant hired by the organization after the layoffs shed light on these sentiments.

“Confidence in the leadership of the organization – both senior executives and the board – has been shaken. This has been particularly the case for May,” said Boeve, 2020 report by consultant Hannah Lownsbrough, obtained by POLITICO from the staff of “The layoffs in the United States were experienced as disproportionately affecting people of color and other marginalized identities within the team of 350 employees; concerns have been expressed about the emergence of a “culture of white supremacy dominance”. executives say 25 people lost their jobs in the layoffs, and 20 of them were white.

But several staff, including staff of color, said the actual layoffs only tell part of the story. The cuts have placed new strains on the remaining workers, leading to more departures, including among some people of color who had only recently joined the staff. acknowledged that the layoffs had a “serious impact on staff morale and our retention.” said another 35 staff members quit between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020, but did not offer a racial breakdown of those resignations.

In the wake of the layoffs, said it has redoubled its efforts to reduce pay and equity disparities, including minimizing the gaps between the lowest-paying and highest-paying positions. He said justice, equity, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of a new multi-year plan and that he is “working through an extensive consultative process to ensure that multiple perspectives are integrated into the development of our program strategy”.

These changes included bringing more voices of color to the organization’s global leadership team. Six of its nine US program staff are people of color, the group said. Four members of the organization’s six-person global leadership team are women, while half of that team is either a person of color or from the South.

But those changes still don’t seem to be being felt by American personnel of color. North America manager Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, who is black, noted in her December 2020 departure statement that she was leaving behind a “mostly black and brown female-led leadership team.”

But she says that team no longer exists.

“I’ve hired just about every black and brown person on this staff and I don’t think there’s one but one,” said Toles O’Laughlin, who now heads the Environmental Grantmakers Association. “They have no new problems. I want them to be as awake as the movement needs.

Assata Harris, senior organization specialist at, described an “exodus of black staff” in a January 2021 internal Slack message obtained from a third party by POLITICO, saying “people aren’t getting paid fairly.” and are “overworked and underpaid”. .”

The reputation of the organization, once revered in environmental circles, has taken a hit. Rumors of internal racial conflict grew enough in the past year that racial justice organization Center for Action on Race and the Economy waived a $100,000 grant offered by to partner to a campaign, said Erika Thi Patterson, campaign manager for climate and environmental justice. for ACRE.

“My question is simple, why do we continue to work with white run organizations that treat black people and black women in particular like crap?” Anthony Rogers-Wright, director of environmental justice at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said in a blast of emails in September 2021 to officials from several environmental organizations and Capitol Hill offices such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. cori bush (D-Mo.). He added in the email that “must be put on notice.”


If we had to choose a start to the saga, the 2018 financial year is a competitor: this is when integrated its financial management.

A 2020 third-party audit by FMA consulting firmsubmitted to POLITICO by the staff of, noted that as of 2019, the group’s finance team was “far removed from the rest of the organization”. Audit added that “systems were often not up to date” and staff were not “trained or equipped to work in a complex global organization”, with often relying on temporary hires.

“This, combined with an aggressive fundraising focus that was not backed by a lot of data and light governance, left the organization in a perilous position,” the report said.

FMA auditors blamed a ‘cheerleader’ board, concentration of power at executive director level, lack of strategic budgeting and fundraising ‘very story-based and not data-driven’ for the $25 million that was rolled out in March 2019. Global Retreat in Ireland – well above the $19 million it raised the previous year.

The problems appeared two months later.

In June 2019, the board halved its broad revenue target, from $12.5 million to $6 million, as donations plummeted. Department heads were warned July 22 that slow fundraising was hurting’s cash position, according to a timeline compiled in the FMA report. They reduced their expenses by 15%. In August, Boeve announced a hiring freeze affecting 46 positions, acknowledging that “we started our hiring drive even before all funds were secured.”

The September 2019 climate strikes on which Boeve pinned his fundraising hopes were only weeks away, but it was clear that was hemorrhaging money.

The management team called emergency meetings in early September but were advised ‘not to communicate with all staff until the implications are fully clear and not to disrupt before climate strikes’, according to the report. of the FMA.

As activists and staff took to the streets the week of September 20, the leadership team met in New York from September 22-24 to ‘finalize emergency measures’ – including the plan budget cuts and major layoffs. Boeve announced the layoffs in October.

“Our reading of the landscape turned out to be inaccurate, and unfortunately our systems were not yet fully in place for us to correct our course in time,” Boeve said in an email to staff after the climate strikes.

The initial cuts were expected to affect 30 to 35 positions, bringing the total workforce down to around 160. US program staff stood at 50 when the layoffs began but fell to 41 afterwards, according to counts compiled by no less than 10 current and former members of staff. , said a person involved in the effort.

But then most leave of their own volition. Those who remained juggled the workload of colleagues who left. For many, this has resulted in overwhelming hours and stress without additional pay.

“American staff are facing extremely low morale and unrealistic workloads,” the Progressive Workers Union, which represents employees, said in an October 2020 email obtained by POLITICO.

These challenges have polluted the work environment, current and former employees, leading to additional departures. As of 2022, only nine US program staff remain. Overall, the organization employs 142 people, well below the 160 at which Boeve hoped to stabilize the organization.


These complaints are at the center of a labor battle raging within

PWU successfully halted a restructuring attempt in August 2020 even as 40% of the US workforce quit that year. PWU accused management in an October 2020 email of various practices, including demoting a member of the bargaining team, offering only non-union members to choose roles that they wanted in the new structure and the combination of most union roles “in order to increase the workload”. dismissed these characterizations in a response to POLITICO, saying that “all relevant staff have been consulted” and that, regarding the allegations of retaliation, “we would welcome the opportunity to address these accusations in the appropriate administrative or legal framework”.

In an email to’s human resources department obtained by POLITICO from staff, Matt Leonard, who had worked for for a decade and is now director of the climate group Oil and Gas Action Network, alleged his efforts to hold management accountable for his decision-making led to his demotion.

“[T]The organization has now allowed a toxic culture of bullying, favouritism, intimidation and retaliation to continue despite numerous staff raising concerns, filing formal HR complaints and mass loss of staff over the past year,” Leonard wrote in the email. “ has created working conditions so intolerable that it reasonably expects them to lead to staff quits.”

Leonard left the organization last year.


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