The American Civil Liberties Union this week laid off 23 employees, about 7 percent of the organization’s national staff.
The cuts affected employees in New York, D.C., California and Wyoming.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero announced the impending reductions internally in a March 26 email to employees, and the affected staffers were notified Monday.
In the email, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Romero cited the need for the ACLU to cut costs. In addition to the layoffs, the organization during the fiscal year ending March 31, eliminated ten national staff positions, postponed its nationwide staff conference to 2016 and increased employee contributions to health plan costs.
Over the last five fiscal years, the ACLU’s annual operating deficit averaged more than $15 million, and the organization has used reserves to fill the gap, Romero wrote.
“The operating deficit is the big challenge we tackled in our strategic planning meetings and in developing next year’s budget and we decided that we can’t keep relying on reserves at this level,” he wrote.
“While the organization is financially healthy and is experiencing strong fundraising, these cuts are necessary in order to balance expenses and revenues, and to allow strategic growth in targeted program areas,” the ACLU said in a statement.
Romero’s email to staffers noted that the organization in 2009 stopped receiving a $22 million annual gift from a donor, who he described as a family that was no longer able to contribute at that level due to “significant investment losses.”
“This substantial shortfall in funding resulted in a major realignment of staff, including layoffs,” Romero wrote. “In the intervening years, we tried to make up for that loss by seeking additional support from new and existing donors.”
Last November, the ACLU received a $50 million grant from the Open Society Foundations, the network founded by investor and philanthropist George Soros, to aid in the Foundations’ campaign to reduce incarceration rates in the United States.
“Nobody saw this coming,” said one former employee who was affected by the cuts and asked not to be named in order to preserve professional relationships. “The organization is lush with funds and then suddenly we’re told of the layoffs. I was told to box my belongings and leave the premises as soon as possible. The very organization entrusted with protecting civil liberties didn’t even respect the civil rights of its own employees.”