Unions demand Change.org worker rights policy

Yesterday Ryan Grim broke a story in HuffPost Hill that a number of labor unions, including “AFT, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, CWA, IBEW and the Steelworkers,” had written a letter to Change.org, asking the company to have a clear policy about not working with organizations who advocated union busting. This followed a pressure campaign lead by the American Federation of Teachers to have Change.org stop working with the union-busting organizations Students First and Stand for Children.

I’ve received a copy of the unions’ letter to Change.org Founder and CEO Ben Rattray. Of note is the unions’ strong demand for a clear policy from Change regarding their stand on workers’ rights:

An unequivocal public statement from you articulating Change.org’s position on collective bargaining, and on workers’ rights more generally, would go a long way toward clarifying what your brand represents.

The letter goes on:

As you know, leaders from a variety of labor unions and organizations over the past year have attempted to address with you the concerns we raise here. They and we are seeking clarification on how Change.org meshes two compelling objectives: remaining an open platform and (simultaneously) honoring your stated commitment to the public good over private corporate benefit. On a number of occasions, staff from unions that have raised this question with you have been assured that they should not worry about this issue, that contracts violating the spirit of your expressed goals were ending, and that Change.org was engaged in internal discussions about whom you would and would not work with in the future. Nevertheless, it appears that Change.org is entering into new contracts with groups that are not respectful of the right to collectively bargain or the benefits that flow from that right.

Organizations that weaken workers’ rights and facilitate the privatization of public services undermine the common good for private corporate benefit. Experience has shown that when these services upon which the public depends are opened to corporate interests, considerations of equal access, fairness and quality become much less important than profitability. We ask that you issue a response clarifying your position so that we can use your platform again and in good conscience recommend it to our brothers and sisters in labor and in the wider progressive community.

Last night Grim quoted a spokesperson for Change.org as saying, “As we’ve noted, Change.org is undertaking a company-wide process to evaluate and clarify our client policy.” They also said that Change plans on reaching out to “thousands” of “stakeholders” for their input into what their policy should be. Hopefully this process is prompt.

Clearly unions representing workers affected by anti-teacher campaigns taking place on Change.org are not yet mollified by the response from them. Change.org has good, clear policies relating to other issue areas. The big hole is regarding workers’ rights.

The answer to this problem is fairly obvious from a progressive standpoint, but apparently less clear-cut from a business standpoint. It isn’t exactly news that corporate-funded organizations who are hell-bent on busting unions have a lot of money to spend, including on tools and advertisers like Change. Change.org’s decision to stop working with Students First and Stand for Children is one that was undoubtedly a costly one, at least in so far as these organizations have lots of money from the Koch Brothers and the Walton family and others to spend. A broad, blanket policy to not work with union busters would surely foreclose business opportunities for Change.

The flip side, as the union presidents say in the letter, is that labor wants to be able to recommend other labor unions and progressive organizations use Change.org. Doing the right thing from a progressive standpoint should make clear to other liberals that they are a business worth doing work with.

Though the letter doesn’t explicitly threaten a boycott of Change.org by labor and their allies, the implication is that these unions are prepared to use economic pressure strategies if the company doesn’t enact a strongly progressive policy towards This may well serve to light a fire behind the already ongoing process to evaluate Change.org’s client policy.

For me, the answer is pretty simple. Just as Change.org refuses to work with clients who are anti-gay, anti-immigrant, or anti-woman, they should make clear that they will not work with clients who are anti-worker.


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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