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SPLC management and union clash over layoffs and the organization’s future

The SPLC Union says the recent layoffs are union busting and reflect the organization’s move away from the rural South.

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On June 12, the Southern Poverty Law Center emailed almost eighty employees telling them that they had been laid off. In the weeks since, affected employees have begun to question the need for layoffs, the SPLC’s current direction, and the organization’s changing role in the South.

LaShanwda Dudley, who had been working as an administrative assistant for SPLC, told APR she was already “ready to log on” when she got the email.

“I left [my previous] job thinking that I was coming to something that was secure,” Dudley said. “I knew the great work that [the SPLC] did.”

Lisa Wright, a unit chair for the SPLC Union who worked for the SPLC for more than 20 years, said the layoffs reflect the SPLCs history of going to support communities and pulling the world from under those communities and abandoning them over and over again.”

In a public statement, the union claimed that the layoffs were “designed to punish Union activists and intimidate employees just as we saw when Mercedes-Benz fired Union organizers in Vance, Alabama.”

Wright told APR that 92 percent of the laid off workers were dues-paying union members, compared to just 80 percent of all SPLC workers before the layoffs.

But in an email to SPLC staff, organization president/CEO Margaret Huang said the reorganization was the necessary result of an “effort to move our organization into full alignment with our priority programmatic strategies and objectives” set out in the SPLC’s new strategic framework.

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Huang told APR that besides the “overarching goal of building a multiracial inclusive democracy, the four main objectives are poverty eradication, decarcerating and decriminalizing Black and brown communities, promoting voting rights and civic engagement, and eliminating white supremacy.

She also said SPLC management had “been trying to wind down some areas of work that are not part of those priorities” for a couple years before the recently announced layoffs.

In Wright’s opinion, though, for the last few years the SPLC’s focus has been shifting away from rural areas and Alabama and towards urban areas, namely Atlanta and DC.

She told APR that “about 16 employees who reside in Alabama” were laid off, but, counting remote workers, the layoffs affected a total of twenty employees assigned to the Montgomery office.

“The gutting of our Montgomery office is concerning,” Wright stated. “Our CEO, our chief legal officer, our chief policy officer, our chief program officer, our strategy officer no longer live in Alabama.”

“What our continued presence in the state will look like is a question that you’ll have to pose to SPLC because we’re concerned about that also,” she continued.

Wright and the union’s official statements have also drawn attention to the SPLC’s sizable reserves, with Wright saying there is “no reason at all to have the resources that this organization had and to maliciously choose violence.

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Dudley said she didnt understand why she was laid off because I know they have the reserves, they have the money.”

The SPLC’s most recent filing with the IRS, from February 2024, show that the organization had $711 million in net assets in 2023. Huang told APR she has seen numbers more “in the $600 million” range.

With $122 million of total spending in 2023, $600 million is roughly equal to five years of the SPLC’s operating expenses.

Huang explained to APR that while the layoffs definitely werent a financial necessity, the reserves are being used to advance those priority areas of work” the SPLC is working to focus on going forward.

To refocus on the priority areas, she said, the SPLC is hiring 17 positions immediately” that are “being currently offered to people who’ve been affected by the transition,” and will be adding “30 to 40 more positions in the near future.”

The SPLC Union, though, has been adamant about wanting the layoffs to be reversed and is currently aiming to have 12,800 letters sent to SPLC management.

“We want change, we want the decision reversed,” Wright said. “We want answers.”

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Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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