Who’s Behind the War on Workers’ Rights?


November 5, 2013

The 2010 midterm elections brought to power a wave of anti-worker governors and legislators. Some are notorious for their attacks on workers’ rights: Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, Rick Snyder in Michigan.

Less well-known are the powerful anti-worker special interest and well-funded corporate lobbyists behind the legislative war on workers: the Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council, among others.

Their agenda: cut wages, benefits, eliminate workplace protections and permanently cripple the ability of workers to organize and collectively bargain.

Economic Policy Institute Research Associate Gordon Lafer says that these attacks on working people aren’t the result of constituent pressure or economic reality, but are part of a coordinated national campaign to strip workers of their rights and remake America according to an extreme ideological agenda.

“The most powerful political actors across the country in every state legislature are working to lower wages and make it harder to make a living,” said Lafer at an event announcing the publication his report, “The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011-2012.”

 “This is coming out of offices in D.C. or New York City,” said Lafer.

He reports the numerous efforts by state legislatures to undermine working families:

  • Fifteen states have passed laws restricting the rights of public employees to collectively bargain
  • Nineteen states introduced “right-to-work” bills
  • Four states passed laws restricting minimum wage
  • Four states passed laws loosing child labor restrictions
  • 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.

Project labor agreements are also a top target of ALEC-allied officials, with 10 states passing laws outlawing or restricting PLAs in 2011-2012. Prevailing wage laws have been scaled back in five states, while four more passed laws banning local municipalities from adopting local prevailing wage standards.

And whether these laws are introduced in Wisconsin or Arizona, they usually have one author: ALEC.

ALEC is a national network and think tank funded by some of the country’s largest corporations. It counts as members hundreds of state legislators. Anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors is also allied with ALEC.

The group churns out model bills for use by elected officials on everything from deregulation to weakening workplaces protections.

“Members of ALEC in the Virginia General Assembly would meet as a group behind closed doors to come up with bills,” said Del. Patrick Hope, who spoke at the EPI event.

Hope said that Virginia taxpayers have paid more than $230,000 in funds toward sending delegates to ALEC conferences.

“I don’t have a problem with delegates meeting with corporate lobbyists,” he said. “The problem is everything ALEC is doing behind closed doors and isn’t reported as lobbying.”

Read Lafer’s report here.

Caption: Legislation like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to strip public workers of their rights has its origins with the American Legislative Exchange Council according to a new report.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user United Steelworkers