BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
They're not Birthers, wackos, Christian nationalists, or particularly consumed by whether President Barack Obama is a Marxist or a socialist. Nevertheless they are steadfast conservatives hell bent on turning back the clock on the rights of workers; destroying what's left of organized labor, undermining struggles by non-union workers, and eliminating many of the achievements workers have fought for over the past seventy-five years.
Couched as a response to difficult fiscal conditions, Republican governors and Republican-led state legislatures – many of them in battleground states -- have been working hard at eviscerating the rights of public employees. Public workers, however, aren't the only target of wealthy right-wing funders, major corporate lobbies, and corporate-funded lobbying organizations; non-union and private sector workers are also seen as fair game.
And, despite the bad publicity it received over its involvement with Stand Your Ground legislation in a number of states -- information that was revealed in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin -- the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is playing a prominent role in an anti-labor coalition whose agenda is moving along at breakneck speed.
The assault on workers' rights have multiplied in the past few years. In addition to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's anti-union assault, "collective bargaining rights were eliminated for Tennessee schoolteachers, Oklahoma municipal employees, graduate student research assistants in Michigan, and farm workers and child care providers in Maine," according to an Economic Policy Institute report written by Gordon Lafer.
"Michigan and Pennsylvania both created 'emergency financial managers' authorized to void union contracts. New Jersey and Minnesota's legislatures both voted to limit public employees' ability to bargain over health care. Ohio legislators adopted a law — later overturned by citizen referendum — largely imitating Wisconsin's, prohibiting employees from bargaining over anything but wages, outlawing strikes, and doing away with the practice of binding arbitration. ... Indiana, which had already eliminated most collective bargaining rights for state employees in 2006, adopted new legislation that prohibits even voluntary agreements with state employee unions."
The EPI report, titled The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012, "seeks to illuminate the agenda to undermine wages and labor standards being advanced for non-union Americans in order to understand how this fits with the far better-publicized assaults on the rights of unionized employees. By documenting the similarities in how analogous bills have been advanced in multiple states, the report establishes the extent to which legislation emanates not from state officials responding to local economic conditions, but from an economic and policy agenda fueled by national corporate lobbies that aim to lower wages and labor standards across the country."
According to the EPI report, "In 2011 and 2012, state legislatures undertook numerous efforts to undermine wages and labor standards":
▪ "Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, four lifted restrictions on child labor, and 16 imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed."
▪ "States also passed laws stripping workers of overtime rights, repealing or restricting rights to sick leave, undermining workplace safety protections, and making it harder to sue one's employer for race or sex discrimination."
▪ "Legislation has been pursued making it harder for employees to recover unpaid wages (i.e., wage theft) and banning local cities and counties from establishing minimum wages or rights to sick leave."
• "For the 93 percent of private-sector employees who have no union contract, laws on matters such as wages and sick time define employment standards and rights on the job. Thus, this agenda to undermine wages and working conditions is aimed primarily at non-union, private-sector employees."
This type of legislation is supported by such "major corporate lobbies" as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and National Association of Manufacturers, and by "corporate-funded lobbying organizations" such as Americans for Tax Reform, the Koch brothers–backed Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Despite it being chastised for initiating Stand Your Ground laws and having a number corporate-sponsors jump ship, ALEC, registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is still a major player in this network. ALEC's methodology is both fascinatingly subversive and successful. Bill Moyers has called ALEC "the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of."
Gordon Lafer, a political economist and an associate professor at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center, points out in the EPI report that among its 2000 members are numerous state senate presidents and house speakers. The organization continues to provide lavish accommodations for legislators at its conferences, "where committees composed of equal numbers of public and private officials draft proposals for model legislation."
ALEC's staff then takes the ideas and molds them into "legislative language and produces supporting policy reports. Thus state legislators with little time, staff, or expertise are able to introduce fully formed and professionally supported legislation. Ultimately, the key 'exchange' that ALEC facilitates is between corporate donors and state legislators: The corporations pay ALEC's expenses, contribute to legislators' campaigns, and fund the state-level think tanks that promote legislation; in return, legislators carry the corporate agenda into their statehouses. Over the past decade, ALEC's leading corporate backers have contributed more than $370 million to state elections, and over 100 laws a year based on ALEC's model bills have been adopted."
The report also notes that "Virtually all of the initiatives described in this report — including forced privatization, 'right to work,' and abolishing minimum-wage and prevailing-wage laws — reflect model statutes developed by ALEC and promoted through its network. This dimension of ALEC's work is not aimed at immediately enhancing specific donors' revenues, but at reshaping the fundamental balance of power between workers and employers."
For more on ALEC's operations, see the testimony that Lisa Graves, the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, gave in late October before Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights for a hearing on "'Stand Your Ground' Laws: Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force."
Anti-worker projects have been brewing in conservative circles since at least the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attacks on public workers in Wisconsin brought these battles to the forefront and ushered in renewed attacks on workers' rights. Turning back these assaults will be critical to the health and welfare of working people.