Democratic Fundraising Site ActBlue Lays off 54 Employees

On Monday, April 3, ActBlue, the major digital fundraising platform used by Democratic campaigns, causes, and organizations, laid off 54 employees, including 32 members of the ActBlue Union (AB1U). This amounts to about 17 percent of the organization’s total workforce, and 20 percent of the union’s bargaining unit.

In an April 3 press release, the ActBlue Union wrote, “ABLT (ActBlue Leadership Team) notified the ActBlue Union on Friday, March 29 that these layoffs would take place to address the organization’s long-term budget deficit for the 2023-2024 cycle.”

This announcement was the first time the ActBlue Union was made aware of ActBlue’s budgetary concerns. They continued, “These layoffs jeopardize ActBlue’s ability to fully serve our entities, donors, and the larger Democratic movement ahead of a critical election cycle.”

This comes close on the heels of two major changes at the organization. The ABLT and AB1U ratified the union contract only two months ago, on Feb. 6. In the same Tweet that announced the ratification, AB1U also noted that the contract was born out of “nearly two years of negotiations.”

On Dec. 2, 2020, the official ActBlue blog publicly announced that it would voluntarily recognize the newly formed union. In the post, the company expressed, “Unions make workplaces stronger, more equitable, and more sustainable. These are all traits close to ActBlue’s work to provide long-term infrastructure for small-dollar donors to connect with the campaigns, organizations, and nonprofits they support.”

In addition, ActBlue announced that former CEO and President Erin Hill, who had helmed the organization for the past 14 years, was stepping away from her role and would be replaced in both roles by Regina Wallace-Jones, who touts executive-level experience from the likes of Yahoo and Facebook. This is accompanied by turnover of many other high-level roles inside the organization, as can be gleaned from LinkedIn.

These layoffs smack of union-busting, as expressed by Gina Dige, a freshman graphic design student. Dige said, “As an uninformed observer, that doesn’t sound right. It’s particularly concerning to me that the Union had less than three days to negotiate a severance package for laid off employees who, until Friday didn’t know they were losing their jobs.”

Johanna Foster PhD, who helms the Monmouth Union, explained in an interview some of the union-busting tactics which organizers need to look out for. Union-busting can take place before and after recognition, and range from captive-audience meetings where management shares anti-union information, which are legal; to threats, which are illegal but often difficult to prove; to violence, which is much less common now than at other points of the past century.

In the interview, Foster emphasized, “The only hope we have for improving people’s relationship with work is collective power, whether that’s a labor union or something else.”

A former ActBlue employee, who was among those laid off, anonymously told The Outlook that the company’s claim that the layoffs were a response to financial stressors was a major surprise. During union negotiations, the employee alleges that management “made a strong impression every time we asked about financials… that the company was in a good place and that the union had no need to worry about potential layoffs.”

There has been little public coverage of these layoffs, although they hold potentially major implications for the organized left politically.

Savannah Steinhauer, a senior public health student, immediately noted the potential ripple-effects these layoffs might hold for organizations which rely on ActBlue for their critical work. “I hadn’t heard about [the layoffs]…that’s really discouraging to me, especially from a public health perspective,” Steinhauer said. “Planned Parenthood is the only resource for reproductive health available to some communities. It is so deeply necessary, so it’s concerning to see this kind of move (from AB) which could jeopardize their work.”