The names “Center for Public Policy Priorities,” “Fiscal Policy Institute,” and “Policy Matters Ohio” sound innocuous. But for a number of left-wing state-level policy organizations, membership in the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) signals a warning: these research groups serve Big Labor. Hiding behind tax-law requirements, its members claim to be “non-partisan.”
Founded in 1998, EARN, the national coalition of state-level policy organizations and other national left-wing groups like Demos, National Employment Law Project, and People for the American Way, is a project of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Behind that innocuous-sounding name is a web of open connections to major labor unions. EPI’s president, Thea Lee, was formerly deputy chief of staff of the AFL-CIO; the AFL-CIO’s president, Richard Trumka, chairs the board. According to EPI itself, labor unions provided almost 30 percent of EPI’s funding from 2013 through 2016.
The effects of union funding and unionist control of EPI on its research findings are predictable. The organization has produced findings contrary to economists’ consensuses and favorable to labor union ideology on the employment consequences of the minimum wage and the utility of international trade. EPI’s research also supports the claims of government worker unions’ (AFSCME president Lee Saunders sits on the EPI board) that public employees are underpaid. Taking positions outside of the mainstream of the economics profession leads to problems for EPI when it tries to circulate letters purporting to show economists’ support for its positions; one such letter in 2014 was signed by 40 open Marxists or similar extreme-left ideologues—including an editor of 9/11 conspiracy literature.
The EARN groups include state-level public policy development organizations like Public Assets Institute (in Vermont), organizing and activation groups—including some retained by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) front groups to support its “Fight for $15” campaign—like Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, and national left-wing organizations. EARN is led by Naomi Walker, a former official for the AFSCME government worker union and the AFL-CIO.
Funding for the state-level groups comes from a number of sources. Labor unions are present: New York’s Fiscal Policy Institute is funded by the state teachers’ union federation NYSUT; the San Diego, California-based Center on Policy Initiatives receives support from an SEIU local in the city; and the Keystone Research Center receives support from Pennsylvania’s state-monopoly liquor store workers’ union, UFCW Local 1776. Also supporting EARN organizations are major left-wing labor-aligned foundations: The Ford Foundation, one of the largest in the country, alone has funded over half of the groups in the EARN coalition.
For a full list of the EARN member organizations operating in states across the nation, see our InfluenceWatch page on the Economic Analysis and Research Network.