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AstroTeach: Paid Counter-Protesters Appear at Philly Teachers Union Demonstration



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When the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) demonstrated on Thursday against a School Reform Commission (SRC) decision to end the contract between the school district and the union, they faced counter-protests from a marketing firm paid for by a conservative think tank. 

The veil was lifted on the Commonwealth Foundation’s hiring of NYC-based GoGorilla to provide ten “brand ambassadors” and two “Team leaders” to distribute anti-union propaganda during the demonstration.  The counter protesters were paid between $100-$120 for their participation according to BillyPenn.  

The astroturf action is part of the “PFT Fails” campaign by the Commonwealth Foundation, which seeks to spread propaganda about the various ways that the PFT and its president Jerry Jordan have failed students.  The website launched on Thursday in conjunction with the staged counter-protest.  Philly Mag confirmed that the domain name, along with and, were purchased by Commonwealth Foundation vice president Nathan Benefield.  

The Commonwealth Foundation has not denied the story, instead arguing that their action should not be labeled a “counter protest.”  Cindy Hamill-Dahlgren, Director of Strategic Communications for the Commonwealth Foundation, told NBC Philadelphia:

“Commonwealth Foundation hired 12 people to hold banners and pass out handouts at tomorrow’s PFT rally.  We will be there, not to counter-protest but to inform the public of how the PFT has failed teachers and students.”

In response to Hamil-Dahlgren’s comments, George Jackson, Communications Director for the PFT, said:

“If you have an ax to grind then you should be able to find people who will come out and hand flyers out for free,” Jackson said. “But apparently they can’t do that. To be quite honest with you, they are pro-corporate interest with a pro-corporate agenda. That’s what they’re doing here.”

Jackson promised that the presence of 12 paid counter-protesters would not affect the PFT. The SRC remains the union’s prime foe:

“What the SRC did last week in their ambush against the PFT was to try and insinuate that PFT’s teachers weren’t giving enough out of their own pockets to keep our schools running,” Jackson said. “Just the opposite is true.”

The unilateral changes to the teachers’ contract revolve around health insurance. Teachers will be asked to make dramatic concessions while the PFT Health and Welfare fund is phased out and its balance returned to the schools to make improvements in classrooms.  

Superintendent Dr. William Hite says the money is already flowing back into the classrooms.  This comes despite the questionable legality of the SRC’s decision to break the union’s contract.  Teachers argue that this is just another scenario in which they are asked to pay out of pocket for classroom costs. It does not constitute a long term solution, they assert.  Hite, too, spoke to NBC Philadelphia, saying:

The money will be used to support student learning and other support services. Some schools are using these funds already to provide extracurricular activities and remediation in reading and math, to compensate teachers for taking on these duties and to hire additional support staff,” Hite said. “We are gratified to be able to provide these funds while also recognizing they are not nearly enough to meet all of our schools’ needs. The School District will continue to look for additional revenues and urge our elected officials to approve a statewide fair funding formula.”

In total, $43.8 million from the union’s Health and Welfare Fund will go to the school district with $15 million being released this week.  An additional $15 million will go to the schools in early 2015. The remaining $13.8 million will go to the schools in April.


One Comment on “AstroTeach: Paid Counter-Protesters Appear at Philly Teachers Union Demonstration”

  1. Perhaps we can get the Carpenters to also stop this practice of paid “activists”?

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