Chesapeake Energy is cutting symbols of its past corporate largesse — including laying off its three staff chaplains and closing an employee garden that grows vegetables for a local food pantry.
The garden's two full-time employees — including a beekeeper — were also laid off this week, according to multiple former and current Chesapeake employees, who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they feared being fired for talking to the media, or losing severance packages after being laid off.
The company has not responded to requests for comment on the garden closing or chaplain layoffs.
Multiple sources told The Oklahoman that Chesapeake has laid off its three staff chaplains. The Chesapeake email accounts for all three pastors that the company employed up until recently have been deactivated.
The company moved to hire its first full-time chaplain, Robin Wood, two years ago after he emailed former CEO Aubrey McClendon about the idea, the company told The Oklahoman in 2011.
Lorrie Jacobs, vice president of compensation and benefits at Chesapeake, described Wood's hiring at the time as “kind of a God thing.”
Jacobs email account was also deactivated this week.
By 2012, Chesapeake employed three full-time chaplains who provided counseling to employees and occasionally presided over weddings and funerals, according to newspaper archives.
Sources told The Oklahoman two full-time employees who staffed Chesapeake's employee garden also were laid off.
The Chesapeake garden takes up an entire city block off NW 63 Street between Lee and Shartel. Employees are able to use the garden's raised beds to grow flowers and vegetables. The spot is also home to a colony of bees.
On Thursday morning, the garden, encircled by a high chain link fence and accessible only by employees, was empty. The windows of the garden office were dark.
For the past several years, Chesapeake employees have donated fresh produce harvested from the garden to nearby BritVil Community Food Pantry.
Chesapeake employees have told BritVil Executive Director Sue Butler that the garden will close after the harvest this fall, she said Thursday.
The vegetables from the Chesapeake garden — everything from tomatoes, okra and kale, go to local families who can't always afford fresh produce, Butler said.
“The vegetables were just phenomenal — they pick them and bring them here the day they pull them out of the garden,” she said. “They've been a blessing for this community.”
Both the employee garden and staff chaplains were some of the company's much-touted employee perks. The company has been consistently ranked on Fortune Magazine's Best Companies to Work For list. Chesapeake was ranked No. 26 on the list in January, the highest ranking for an Oklahoma-based company.
The company has been tight-lipped about reported layoffs in recent weeks, but many have expected job cuts since McClendon left earlier this year.
On Tuesday, the company told The Oklahoman in a statement that it was “transitioning key leadership positions and making adjustments to its organization to properly align resources, reduce expenses, and improve its operating and competitive performance.”
Speaking Wednesday at the Barclays CEO Energy-Power Conference in New York, recently installed CEO Doug Lawler, said he is pushing Chesapeake to become a “more competitive, profitable company.”
“We are going to be return-centric in everything we do and in all aspects of our business,” Lawler said.
Meanwhile, McClendon has founded American Energy Partners in a six-story office building at 301 NW 63, just a few blocks from Chesapeake's main campus. Two billboards outside the building proclaim that American Energy Partners is “Still hiring.”
Building permits filed with the city indicate that McClendon's new company is putting in an employee fitness center on the ground floor of the building.