Change.org and union-busting

By now I assume you’ve seen that Change.org has dropped its two union-busting clients. This is the right move and I’m glad to see it. John’s post this morning does raise some real concerns, though I’ll leave those aside as they’ve already been covered.

I want to follow up on John’s excellent post from yesterday on Change.org’s work for conservative clients. I think John nails a lot of the reasons why Change working for conservatives is deeply problematic, but it’s worth getting into the specifics of what Change was doing, why it is relevant, and why there was a strong push by supporters of workers rights’ to get them to drop these clients.

As a disclaimer, because I view the use of “.org” to be a misleading piece of branding by a for-profit, I refer to them simply as Change.

Change had a long-running relationship with Students First, a group started by Michelle Rhee and funded by conservative Republican luminaries like Rupert Murdoch. Rhee and Students First are in the business of busting teachers unions, promoting private, for-profit schools, and making it easier for teachers’ to be fired. If you’ve signed a petition on Change in the last year, you’ve probably been asked afterwards if you want to sign a petition for Students First. They’re one of the most common promoted petitions I’ve seen, regardless of what issue I’m signing – even those related to workers’ rights!

Despite lots of criticism, Change never backed down from their work with Rhee. Students First has gathered over 1.2 million supporters through Change, though it’s not clear exactly how many of those came from paid acquisition versus visitors to the website genuinely wanting to bust teachers’ unions.

The discussion of Change’s partnership with union busting organizations has exploded this week because it appears they made a jump from working with an organization which advocates busting unions (Students First) to working with a group that is actively involved in a labor dispute (Stand for Children).

What’s the deal with Stand for Children? According to the AFL-CIO, “a billionaire-funded “education reform” group founded by Jonah Edelman, that Chicago teachers say directly interferes with the collective bargaining process between the Chicago Teachers Union/AFT and the School Board.” Billionaire funding including the Walton Foundation (of Wal-mart fame) and Bain. For more information about Stand for Children and their conservative, corporate funders, check out this post and this post.

The Chicago Teachers Union/AFT are currently in a bitter bargaining fight with the Chicago School Board. At issue are such life-changing matters as teacher pay, including the arts in the curriculum for children, and making sure there are nurses and counselors available for children in public schools. The union’s members voted to authorize a strike, with 90% of members approving the move. This is notable, as Rahm Emanuel and Stand for Children had recently support a change to a law requiring CTU to have 75% support to strike.

Jennifer Johnson, a Chicago public school teacher and a CTU member, created a petition on SignOn.org (MoveOn’s competing toolset to Change) that asks Change founder Ben Rattray to stop working with Stand for Children:

I am very dismayed to discover that you have taken on an anti-labor client, targeting teachers, at the height of their contract negotiations. These teachers are negotiating for libraries, art classes, school playgrounds, and support staff including counselors and nurses. These are important for schools and more importantly, children. To promote an anti-labor group’s anti-labor petition in the middle of a contract negotiation is unacceptable and dangerously close to crossing a picket line. Please stop promoting Stand for Children’s petition immediately. The teachers of Chicago deserve a public apology and assurances that you won’t promote conservative groups who work to weaken their bargaining ability on behalf of their students and jeopardize the quality public education for students that they are fighting for.

It’s really important that Change listened to Jennifer Johnson and was responsive this progressive criticism.

It’s worth noting that in recent months, corporations which not only have never marketed themselves as progressive, but are largely anti-progressive, have withdrawn from the conservative advocacy group ALEC in the face of progressive pressure (again, Wal-Mart comes to mind). It’s good to see Change be at least as responsive as these other for-profit businesses.

Union busting isn’t ever OK, at least not for progressives. While Change has done the right thing by dropping Students First and Stand for Children as clients, it’d be great to know if this means they won’t take other union-busting groups as clients in the future, or if this is them just caving to a particular pressure campaign. As John noted earlier, there are certainly things that are concerning in even how they talked about the choice they made.

Nonetheless, this is a strong victory, lead by the teachers’ unions and progressives who believe that protecting workers’ rights is just as much a part of what it means to be progressive as protecting LGBT rights or immigrant rights.


Matt Browner-Hamlin is a blogger & political strategist based in Washington, DC. He has written about US politics since 2004. He's worked on presidential and Senate campaigns, in the labor movement and the Tibetan independence movement. He is the founder of OccupyOurHomes.org and currently spends much of his time fighting Wall Street banks. Matt on Google+, and his .

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