The online petition company Change.org removed petitions by two education reform groups this Tuesday after facing heavy pressure from unions and liberal groups, reports the Huffington Post.
The website ended contracts with former chancellor of D.C. public schools Michelle Rhee’s “StudentsFirst” and Jonah Edelman’s “Stand for Children.” Both groups had been criticised for their anti-union stances.
Pressure against Change.org to refuse petitions by anti-union groups began simmering this past year. Labor officials and liberal activists pressed the company to treat those groups like those with an anti-immigrant or anti-gay bias, which are banned by the site. Because Change.org opperates as a for-profit company, they can refuse business on the basis of perceived company bias.
“To a certain extent, people have viewed Change.org as a set of tools. What they really are is a for-profit consulting company. In fact, there are a lot of groups that are frustrated that they have a ‘.org’ after their name but they aren’t actually a nonprofit,” Justin Wilson of the Center for Union Facts told The Daily Caller. “This is fully within the purview of the rights of their organization. But we should hold them to a higher bar as to where they are attempting to position themselves with regards to public policy.”
Two weeks ago, the pressure ignited when Edelman’s group sponsored a petition asking the Chicago Teachers’ Union to return to the bargaining table. The union had just announced that 90% of its members voted to authorize a strike for this fall.
Union supporters reacted rapidly to the petition. Chicago public school teacher Jennifer Johnson posted a petition to SignOn.org, a petition website similar to Change.org, demanding the removal of Stand for Children’s petition and an apology from Change.org.
“By taking money to promote this anti-union campaign, Change.org is turning their backs on teachers and endangering our efforts to provide a world-class education to our children,” Johnson wrote. “The teachers of Chicago deserve a public apology from Change.org and assurances that you won’t again promote conservative groups who oppose collective bargaining rights for teachers or other unions.”
Progressive communities and bloggers joined the almost 5,000 signatures on Johnson’s petition. After the barrage of protests, Change.org pulled the petition. The website agreed to end contracts with both Stand for Children and StudentsFirst after listening to the concerns “of the broader Change.org community,” said spokesman Benjamin Joffe-Walt.
But Nancy Zuckerbrod of StudentsFirst said the company pulled the petitions to avoid losing financing from high-value partners.
The two companies focus on different but vital aspects of education reform, Wilson said in a press release. StudentsFirst, Rhee’s organization, aims to produce both local and national education reform by mobilizing parents, teachers, students and administrators alike. Edelman’s group, Stand for Children, works to assure all student graudate from high school with preparation necessary to succeed in college or the workforce.
Change.org and StudentsFirst were unavailable for comment.