Change.org drops Rhee, Stand for Children

Updated below

Great news – last night Ryan Grim of Huffington Post reported that Change.org is dropping union busting groups Students First and Stand for Children.

I posted a version of my post from yesterday afternoon on Change.org & union busting on AMERICAblog, after the decision was announced and evolved it into more of a retrospective of why it was important for labor and workers’ allies to stand up to this sort of business relationship with union busters.

This is a huge victory. It’s great for labor to fight back and have this sort of win, which is all too rare. It’s great that Change dropped these groups as clients. At AMERICAblog, I wrote:

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.

Part of the discussion that goes beyond opposing union busting is what sort of expectations we place on businesses which provide infrastructure that the progressive movement uses. Change is not only the home to many progressive petition campaigns, but is a consulting group unions and other progressive groups use to help generate lists of new activist supporters. I’ve contracted them in the past for list building and they produce good results for the money.

Care2 is a similar sort of platform to Change, it’s an activist community and it sells email addresses to organizations. I’ve used them in the past too. And like Change, Care2 has had Students First as a client.

Blue State Digital is a technology platform used to conduct online organizing, fundraising and email campaigns. I’ve used their tool set in political campaigns and I hired them while I was at SEIU to provide their tools not only for the International but all SEIU locals. Blue State Digital is the tool set used by the Obama campaign. It’s also the tool set used by Rhee’s Students First.

The political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker is not only frequently used by labor unions, but also Students First.

Change.org, Blue State Digital, Care2 and SKDKnickerbocker are all examples of pieces of infrastructure which progressive groups use that are or have assisted Students First bust teachers’ unions. None of this should be acceptable in the slightest. While I didn’t have any part in organizing the campaign targeting Change around Rhee and Stand for Children, I’d hope the AFT and other teachers’ unions look at BSD, Care2 and SKDK as potential next targets. Businesses can work with whoever they like, but if they want progressive money, working with union busters should not be tolerated.

Update (6/21/12):
I’ve been contacted by Care2 and informed that they no longer have any relationship with Students First. I’m very glad to hear this.

Additionally, while Change.org is not going to renew their contract with Students First, it looks like they are contractually obligated to fulfill the ad placements they sold to Rhee’s group.

Change.org & Union Busting

I want to follow up on John Aravosis’s excellent post 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 is doing and why it is relevant. As a disclaimer, because I view the use of “.org” to be an intentionally misleading piece of branding, I choose to refer to them simply as Change.

Change has 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 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’ve 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, has 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 listen to Jennifer Johnson and be 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 may be that Change isn’t actually a progressive business, but a group that will take anyone’s money. But if that’s the case, it’s time for them to stop being a tool used by progressives to wage campaigns.

Hopefully the management and staff at Change take these criticisms seriously. Union busting isn’t ever OK, at least not for progressives.

Wisconsin Aftermath

I’ll be honest, after the labor-backed candidate for governor in Wisconsin lost the Democratic primary in a recall election that was happening because of an assault on workers’ rights and public sector unions, I paid significantly less attention to the race. And even before that, once the choice was made by labor unions and Democratic operatives to turn away from direct action and popular protest following the occupation of the capitol in Madison, and instead focus energy on Democratic electoral gains, I was turned off from this fight. Don’t get me wrong – I still wanted Walker to lose. Now I’m hoping that he gets indicted and soon.

But last night’s elections reveal a number of really big problems. Looking at the final results, with Walker winning by around 7%, there are incredibly disturbing numbers that pop out of the exit polling. 36% of union households voted for Walker.
17% of Obama supporters voted for Walker. Unions, despite being overwhelmingly Democratic, map fairly well onto the partisan divide and it isn’t shocking that over a third of union households voted for a Republican, though it is depressing. But Obama supporters voting for Walker? That’s pretty terrifying if you believe that Democrats support workers’ rights and labor should be allied with the Democratic Party.

Of course it also isn’t surprising that a President who hasn’t done anything to aid labor – no effort on Employee Free Choice, no meaningful effort to improve the NLRB or get good rules out of it – would attract people who vote for a union-busting Republican.

There’s a big problem when the biggest argument in an election is “Defeat the bad guy,” with no compelling vision for how the Democratic candidate is going to affect change. Even had Barrett won, he wouldn’t have been able to reverse Walker’s union-busting legislation, as the Republican still control the state Assembly. The only demonstrable gain that would have happened would have been a cessation of Walker’s union-busting agenda. Evidently that was not compelling enough for all Obama supporters or union households to vote for Barrett.

The volume of outside case also played a role in the outcome. Walker outspent Barrett by around 8:1 and there was tens of millions of dollars in outside spending benefiting Walker. That’s certainly a tough environment to win in, but I don’t think it was in itself determinative. The bad dynamics, the lack of a way for the election to change, the establishment candidate who wasn’t backed by labor, the fact that Barrett had lost to Walker less than two years ago…these all added to the reasoning for the loss. There will be many post-mortems today. I’m really sorry for the people of Wisconsin, especially those who worked for the last 18 months to stop Scott Walker. But perhaps trying to elect more Democrats wasn’t the answer needing to emerge from the occupation of the capitol in Madison.

OFA & Teachers’ Unions

Stephanie Cutter is OFA’s Deputy Campaign Manager. She tweeted:

@stefcutter FACT CHECK: Romney off on Obama’s relationship with teachers’ unions; it’s anything but cozy: //wapo.st/Lu0nYZ

The article she links to is an AP fact check that outlines how Mitt Romney is wrong to say Obama is cozy with teachers’ unions. From the article:

ROMNEY: “President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses — and unwilling to stand up for kids.”

THE FACTS: Several of the core tenets of the Obama administration’s signature education initiative, the Race to the Top competition, are policies first heralded by Republicans and are in opposition to the steadfast positions of teacher unions on topics like school choice and merit pay for teachers.

At its annual meeting last year, the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, sent a message to Obama that it was “appalled” with Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s practice of focusing heavily on charter schools, supporting decisions to fire all staff and using high-stakes standardized test scores for teacher evaluations, along with 10 other policies mentioned.

“Obama has taken on teachers unions unlike any previous Democratic president,” said Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. “Because of that his support among union members, although it is still there, is rather tepid.”

And again, this is an article that Cutter linked to approvingly.

Of course, Cutter is absolutely correct. Obama is not cozy to teachers’ unions. But the fact that the campaign is openly campaigning on the lack of support for workers shows they think unions are totally captured punks who won’t stop their support of Obama, even in the face of public humiliation like this. And, of course, OFA is right.

Update:
Following pressure by pro-worker progressives on Twitter, Cutter has responded with this:

Pres. fights for unions/teachers b/c he believes in them-Mitt dishonest about being beholden to them MT@nitalovesmiles LAME.Explain yourself

Well Cutter certainly did a poor job expressing this. The article Cutter linked to does a pretty good job of showing how the administration’s education policies demonstrate real differences with teachers’ unions. These are differences manifested in concrete policy choices and frameworks for how they think about education. President Obama may way make the occasional good speech to a union audience, but his administration’s actions, especially around teachers’ unions, don’t really come close to his rhetoric. As is so often the case with this President, you are forced to ask, “Who am I going to believe: him or my lying eyes?”

When I read the fact check, I didn’t say, “Wow this is bad reporting,” I said, “Yep, that’s about right.” Staying within the GOP frame is not bad politics here (though it may be that too), it’s that the administration doesn’t have the policy record supporting statements outside the GOP frame.

Occupy Oakland planning a general strike on Nov 2

Following last week’s violent police crackdown, the Occupy Oakland General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a general strike on November 2nd. You can watch a video of the Oakland General Assembly voting to pass the general strike here. While general strikes are rare and hard to enact, this one is gaining steam. The International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union has announced that they will stand in solidarity with this general strike. Occupy Oakland will march on the Port of Oakland and shut it down. Having support of the west coast longshoremen is clearly going to be helpful to the Occupy movement’s efforts. Here’s an excerpt from the resolution calling for the general strike:

We propose a city wide general strike and we propose we invite all students to walk out of school. Instead of workers going to work and students going to school, the people will converge on downtown Oakland to shut down the city.

All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.

While we are calling for a general strike, we are also calling for much more. People who organize out of their neighborhoods, schools, community organizations, affinity groups, workplaces and families are encouraged to self organize in a way that allows them to participate in shutting down the city in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of.

Dana Goldstein on “Class Warfare”

In The Nation, Dana Goldstein has a really great review of Steven Brill’s new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools. Brill has historically been a big supporter of Michelle Rhee and other education activists whose reforms always seem to center around busting teacher’s unions. Goldstein spends much of the review pointing out all of the hard evidence about the influence of outside factors like “family income, nutrition, health, English-language proficiency” that have a greater impact than the teacher they have in the classroom. Brill and people like Rhee tend to look at teachers as the sole factor in a child’s education and upbringing and have embraced a destructive frame of “teachers unions versus poor kids.”

While Goldstein does a good job fisking Brill’s arguments, she notices that as he spends more time evaluating problems beyond the “teachers unions versus poor kids,” he moves away from this polemical binary and accepts that the challenges to providing a good education to America’s children are deeper than Michelle Rhee has lead us all to believe. Goldstein writes:

Although Brill, by the end of Class Warfare, comes to recognize the limits of the education reform movement he so admires, he somehow maintains his commitment to the idea that teachers can completely overcome poverty. There’s a reason, I think, why this ideology is so attractive to many of the wealthy charter school founders and donors Brill profiles, from hedge funder Whitney Tilson to investment manager and banking heir Boykin Curry. If the United States could somehow guarantee poor people a fair shot at the American dream through shifting education policies alone, then perhaps we wouldn’t have to feel so damn bad about inequality—about low tax rates and loopholes that benefit the superrich and prevent us from expanding access to childcare and food stamps; about private primary and secondary schools that cost as much annually as an Ivy League college, and provide similar benefits; about moving to a different neighborhood, or to the suburbs, to avoid sending our children to school with kids who are not like them.The fact of the matter, though, is that inequality does matter. Our society’s decision to deny the poor essential social services reaches children not only in their day-to-day lives but in their brains. In the face of this reality, educators put up a valiant fight, and some succeed. The deck is stacked against them. [Emphasis added]

This is really great stuff from Goldstein, though it’s really just a savvy phenomenological bookend to an otherwise thorough review.

Striking Verizon Workers Speak Out


This is a great video of striking Verizon workers speaking about why they’re out on strike and what the strike means to them. It’s clear that these are smart, savvy, informed union members. The workers in this video are just a few of the 45,000+ Verizon workers of the CWA and IBEW who are out on strike now. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos gives more background as to what the strike is about:

A New York Times story by Steven Greenhouse is revealing, placing the workers’ view—that Verizon’s demands are an assault on middle-class jobs—against Verizon’s argument that that’s not the case because Verizon workers could take a pay cut and still be considered middle class. That’s the company’s argument: There shouldn’t be a problem driving down benefits and job security, because by some measures workers will still be in the middle class—just hanging on by their fingernails instead of solidly so.So to management, the idea that this is about middle-class jobs is just some kind of cynical talking point. And that’s probably the most revealing evidence of just how much this is about middle-class jobs, because it’s about the very definition of what it means to be in the middle class (always a nebulous term anyway). Verizon’s official position is that what used to be a middle-class job—that what Verizon negotiated in their last contract as a middle-class job—is now too good for regular working people and that big chunks of the job security and benefits it offered must now be removed for that same job to count as appropriately middle class. If that’s not an idea to fight back against, I don’t know what is.