This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced that it would disband its controversial "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" to "Sharpen its Focus on Jobs, Free Markets and Growth." The disbanding of the source of a few of its more extreme proposals on voter ID, "Stand Your Ground/Shoot to Kill," and AZ SB1070 will do little to clean up ALEC's reputation. Each of ALEC's nine task forces is a little shop of horrors of legislative proposals that only Milton Friedman could love.
Focus on jobs, you say? The Center for Media and Democracy's archive of over 800 ALEC "model bills" has exposed a jobs agenda that is nothing less than a ruthless race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.
ALEC's Race to the Bottom in Wages for American Workers
The "Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act" would repeal and then ban local "living wage" ordinances like the ones in some 140 cities that provide a higher minimum for city workers/contractors -- enough to maintain a safe, decent standard of living in a community. Similarly, the ALEC "Starting (Minimum) Wage Repeal Act" would preempt the ability of localities to pay a minimum wage higher than the federal level. Some 22 states allow starting wages, but ALEC objects to the policy as an "unfunded mandate."
The ALEC "Prevailing Wage Repeal Act" would get rid of all state prevailing wage laws that give workers engaged in public works contracts a regional, average salary in an attempt to prevent contractors from entering into a race to the bottom in worker wages to win contract bids.
Not satisfied by pulling down workers' wages in every imaginable domestic scenario, ALEC also supports a radical free trade agenda that pits U.S. workers against foreign workers making a fraction of their wage and facilitates the off-shoring of U.S. jobs. From China Free Trade in 2000 to Korea Free Trade today, ALEC has supported shipping jobs overseas.
Where is the bottom in ALEC's race to the bottom? Why, prison labor of course. ALEC promotes the privatization of prisons and prison industries that do not have to abide by minimum wage rules.
Perhaps in an oversight, the ALEC archive does not contain bills rolling back child labor laws.
Benefits and Working Conditions
There's more. ALEC wants to deter injured employees from making worker's compensation claims by, for example, giving employers wider access to workers' medical records. ALEC wants to privatize public pension plans by transferring the management of pension funds to for-profit Wall Street firms. What could go wrong?
And where to begin on the health care agenda? When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a law preempting a modest ordinance granting Milwaukee's restaurant workers a few paid sick days a year, a largely female work force earning poverty wages, ALEC eagerly took up the issue in its "Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee" at the ALEC 2011 meeting in New Orleans. The committee has been co-chaired by YUM! Brands, owners of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and other fast food chains.
Yum, who wants flu with their burger or taco? Today, YUM Brands was the 12th company to announce that it was pulling out of ALEC.
ALEC has a sweeping anti-union agenda that would cripple labor's ability to serve as an effective counterweight to corporate CEOs. Let's start with decades of support for "Right to Work" and "Paycheck Protection" legislation, and other measures to disempower and defund unions.
On collective bargaining, ALEC's "Public Employee Freedom Act" declares that "an employee should be able to contract on their own terms" and "mandatory collective bargaining laws violate this freedom." This ALEC bill and the "Public Employer Payroll Deduction Policy Act" prohibit automatic payroll deductions for union dues, a key aspect of Walker's collective bargaining bill struck down by a federal court judge.
These bills are designed to financially cripple the most significant organized voice for working families. The co-chair of ALEC's "Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force" currently is State Farm Insurance. Other committee members include Macquarie Capital and Cintra USA. These foreign firms have rushed to purchase bridges, toll roads, and other public assets of financially stressed state and local governments so they can provide formerly public services on a for-profit basis. They have a lot to gain from ALEC's expansive agenda to privatize public services.
Apparently, ALEC and the corporations funding ALEC's operations like State Farm, Johnson and Johnson, and AT&T would like to turn back the clock to those good old days when there were no unions and no minimum wage. They must not be allowed to succeed.