The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 27, 2012

ALEC’s name written all over rash of anti-union legislation in U.S.

By The Building Tradesman

Meet ALEC, one of the most influential groups affecting politics and policy in Michigan and across the country – and it’s a group that you have likely never heard of.

“What is ALEC?” asked New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on March 25. “Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.”

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council. The group says it was started more than 30 years ago by “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.”

ALEC’s detractors says it’s no coincidence that numerous pieces of anti-union, anti-worker, pro-corporation legislation have been introduced and adopted in state houses across the nation – with particularly devastating and rancorous results in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Last year, Progress Michigan released a report on the pervasive influence of ALEC in the Michigan Legislature, noting that 25 state lawmakers – all Republican – used taxpayer funds to pay their ALEC dues.

“It’s time for these lawmakers to end their involvement with ALEC and commit to providing honest and open government to the people of Michigan,” said Zack Pohl, Executive Director of Progress Michigan. “It is ridiculous that corporations and the wealthy are allowed to draft bills that are passed by the Legislature, and it’s time to cut off the flow of special favors and easy access for this corporate front group so our elected leaders can focus on putting Michigan back to work.”

We have documented much of the anti-union, anti-worker legislation that has been adopted in Michigan over the past 16 months. (The legislative count is now at 95, and a full list can be found at it’s been well documented how Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker-R (now the target of a recall vote) started the wave of anti-unionism by pushing through a law that limits the ability of public unions to bargain collectively for anything except raises controlled for inflation. The Wisconsin law ended bargaining over benefits, overtime and work conditions.

Ohio union members used a petition and the polls to overturn Senate Bill 5 last November. SB 5 was a Republican-backed law that barred public sector strikes, curtailed bargaining rights for 360,000 public employees and scrapped binding arbitration of management-labor disputes. Last year, 43 percent of the Ohio House of Representatives were ALEC members – all of whom were Republicans, except one Democrat – who later resigned his membership.

And, Republican legislators in Indiana earlier this year managed to push through the biggest conservative prize of all: passing a right-to-work law in the Hoosier state.

The AFL-CIO Label Letter outlines a few other examples of anti-worker activity with ALEC’s name written all over it:

  • “ALEC’s influence has infected virtually every state as evidenced by a canvass of state legislatures that shows 572 bills now pending in 33 states aimed at curtailing collective bargaining for public and private sector workers, limiting freedom of association, speech and assembly (including one in Arizona that describes picketing as ‘harassment’), or restricting project labor agreements.”
  • “Last Fall, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker traveled to Arizona’s Goldwater Institute to sell his brand of union-busting in that state and he found an eager ally in Gov. Jan Brewer who has been hard at work ever since on an agenda developed by ALEC to do away with all collective bargaining for Arizona public workers. Brewer’s plan would go beyond the Wisconsin experience, even making it illegal to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a public employee union.”
  • “ALEC doesn’t limit itself to just trying to muzzle unions, the organization also has a stable full of ‘model’ laws to reduce voter turnout, strangle state tax collections and cripple the Health Care for America Act while other draft laws would help expand corporate profits for its 300 corporate backers at the expense of consumers. ALEC boasts that it succeeded in getting 826 pieces of legislation introduced in state legislatures in 2009.”

Ari Adler, spokesman for Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, told MLive that ALEC is no different than teachers unions from various areas of the country communicating with each other and developing talking points. “We set our own agenda for what we think works best for the people of Michigan,” he said. “Some of our members use ALEC as a resource, one of many organizations they use. That’s what they’re supposed to do, looking at what other legislatures are doing to see what’s working and what’s not working.”

According to Progress Michigan, to date, five major funders of ALEC have indicated they will not renew their membership to the controversial conservative lobbying organization. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Inc., Intuit, Inc., and the Gates Foundation have all made announcements in recent days amid mounting criticism over ALEC’s support for “Stand Your Ground” gun laws like the one in Florida that was implicated in the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

“Now, ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause,” Krugman concluded. “But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters – a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda – is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.”