The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 27, 2012

ALEC’s dirty work deserves more exposure

By The Building Tradesman



By James Hoffa
Teamsters General President

Working Americans scored a big victory last week when four corporations withdrew their membership from a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods and Intuit listened to their customers and quit ALEC. I hope their example is followed soon by the rest of ALEC's members – both the corporations that fund it and the state politicians influenced by it.

Only recently has ALEC been exposed publicly. A year ago, the Center for Media and Democracy in Wisconsin began to draw attention to ALEC's extensive reach, its influence and its secrecy.

The Center found that 2,000 state lawmakers throughout the country belong to ALEC. They introduce bills written by and for ALEC's corporate members, including Koch Industries, Wal-Mart and other multinational corporations. The corporate members' goals are corporate profit and corporate power. They want more tax breaks, an end to unions, monopolies and contracts to run private prisons and schools.

What do the lawmakers get out of it? Their dues are nominal and many of them receive ALEC "scholarships" — all-expenses paid vacations at luxury resorts where they meet wealthy political donors. As the Center reports, "For a few hours of work on a task force and a couple of indoctrination sessions by ALEC experts, part-time legislators can bring the whole family to ALEC's annual convention, work for a few hours, then stay in swank hotels and attend cool parties."

Michigan lawmakers understandably aren't publicizing their membership in ALEC. But its influence in our state can't be missed. ALEC, for example, worked through the Mackinac Center to pass Public Act 4, which gave the governor enormous power to appoint unelected officials, sell off the public assets of Michigan's cities, break up employee unions and privatize public services.

In Wisconsin, ALEC-alumni Gov. Scott Walker's bill stripping government workers of their collective bargaining rights mirrors ALEC's anti-union philosophy. In Ohio, ALEC drafted much of an anti-worker bill that was copied as SB5, since overturned by voters.

More than 50 bills written by ALEC have been introduced in Virginia over the past few years. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's plan to replace public schools with corporate schools was written mostly by ALEC. Utah's governor just signed a bill demanding Congress turn federal lands over to the state.

In Georgia, four senators who belong to ALEC co-sponsored a bill to make picketing a crime punishable by a year in prison.

The bill was so clearly a violation of First Amendment rights that the tea party, civil rights groups and Teamsters united to defeat it.

I hesitate to even call this group “conservative.” There's nothing conservative about privatizing national parks, restricting the right to free speech and selling off public education to for-profit corporate schools. And there's no room in our democracy for such a predatory organization.

(This was originally published in the April 11, 2012 Detroit News Labor Voices column).


Working Americans scored a big victory last week when four corporations withdrew their membership from a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods and Intuit listened to their customers and quit ALEC. I hope their example is followed soon by the rest of ALEC's members – both the corporations that fund it and the state politicians influenced by it.

Only recently has ALEC been exposed publicly. A year ago, the Center for Media and Democracy in Wisconsin began to draw attention to ALEC's extensive reach, its influence and its secrecy.

The Center found that 2,000 state lawmakers throughout the country belong to ALEC. They introduce bills written by and for ALEC's corporate members, including Koch Industries, Wal-Mart and other multinational corporations. The corporate members' goals are corporate profit and corporate power. They want more tax breaks, an end to unions, monopolies and contracts to run private prisons and schools.

What do the lawmakers get out of it? Their dues are nominal and many of them receive ALEC "scholarships" — all-expenses paid vacations at luxury resorts where they meet wealthy political donors. As the Center reports, "For a few hours of work on a task force and a couple of indoctrination sessions by ALEC experts, part-time legislators can bring the whole family to ALEC's annual convention, work for a few hours, then stay in swank hotels and attend cool parties."

Michigan lawmakers understandably aren't publicizing their membership in ALEC. But its influence in our state can't be missed. ALEC, for example, worked through the Mackinac Center to pass Public Act 4, which gave the governor enormous power to appoint unelected officials, sell off the public assets of Michigan's cities, break up employee unions and privatize public services.

In Wisconsin, ALEC-alumni Gov. Scott Walker's bill stripping government workers of their collective bargaining rights mirrors ALEC's anti-union philosophy. In Ohio, ALEC drafted much of an anti-worker bill that was copied as SB5, since overturned by voters.

More than 50 bills written by ALEC have been introduced in Virginia over the past few years. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's plan to replace public schools with corporate schools was written mostly by ALEC. Utah's governor just signed a bill demanding Congress turn federal lands over to the state.

In Georgia, four senators who belong to ALEC co-sponsored a bill to make picketing a crime punishable by a year in prison.

The bill was so clearly a violation of First Amendment rights that the tea party, civil rights groups and Teamsters united to defeat it.

I hesitate to even call this group “conservative.” There's nothing conservative about privatizing national parks, restricting the right to free speech and selling off public education to for-profit corporate schools. And there's no room in our democracy for such a predatory organization.

(This was originally published in the April 11, 2012 Detroit News Labor Voices column).