The Right-Wing’s War on Workers
September 3, 2012
By Larry Cary, Cary Kane LLP
Labor Day is usually a time for picnics and parades celebrating the many contributions made by workers and their unions to American society. But today, the labor movement is under fierce attack from many quarters and, now more than ever, working people and organized labor need to know and understand who its enemies are, especially when they work in secret behind closed doors.
Freed from restrictions by the Supreme Court’s ruling two years ago in Citizens United, right–wing billionaires are throwing millions of dollars into so-called super-PACS intended to defeat President Obama as part of an effort to destroy labor. Sheldon Addison, who once called unions a “fundamental threat” to society, has pledged to donate up to $100 million to defeat Obama. He and his family have already given over $37 million to candidates and super-PACS this season.
Another effort – funded by the anti-union billionaire backers of the Tea Party, David and Charles Koch – is a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). An example of what ALEC can do is what happened in Wisconsin when an ALEC alumni member, Scott Walker, became governor. With the support of 49 other ALEC members in the Wisconsin state legislature, according to Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC got “[a]nti-consumer bills, union busting legislation, voter ID, enormous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy along with requirements for "super majority" votes to raise revenue … fast tracked through the legislature, [which in turn] sparked massive protests regularly topping 100,000 and an 18-day Capitol occupation.” To paraphrase President Abraham Lincoln, in Wisconsin “government of the people, by the people, for the people” got hijacked and the people tried to fight back.
In its Amicus brief to the Supreme Court urging that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) be held unconstitutional, ALEC described itself as “the Nation’s largest nonpartisan, individual-membership association of state legislators. ALEC has approximately 2,000 members— nearly one-third of all state legislators in the United States.” ALEC’s website also says that “[w]ell over 100 ALEC members hold senior leadership positions in their state legislatures. ALEC’s alumni include almost 80 current members of Congress and sitting or former governors.”
In New York, ALEC members include Owen Johnson, the outgoing Senior Assistant Majority Leader in the Senate who also once served as ALEC’s national chairman and now is ALEC’s New York chair. New York State Senators James Alesi, Greg Ball, John Flanagan, Tom Libous, George Maziarz, former Senators Joseph Bruno and Serphin Maltese, and Assemblymen Brian Kolb and Gary Finch have been publicly identified as involved with ALEC, but the true state of its support in New York’s legislature is unknown.
ALEC describes itself asas a “think tank” for state legislators. Its staff “provides research, policy analysis, scholarly articles, reference materials, legislative bill tracking, and expert testimony on a wide spectrum of issues.” The “centerpiece” for its efforts is drafting model legislation which ALEC creates for its members to use in their states. According to State Senator Dan Squadron, ALEC claims to have authored at least 39 bills during the 2010 session of the New York State legislature. He is calling for investigative hearings to determine if ALEC should register as a lobbyist instead of a tax- exempt charity. ALEC is also facing a complaint filed by Common Cause with the IRS contending that it is violating its tax-exempt status because of lobbying, a charge ALEC denies.
Anti-unionism and support for corporations and the superrich is really the true “centerpiece” of ALEC’s ideology. Among the academics on ALEC’s Board of Scholars is Richard K. Vedder, a devotee of that strange school of economic theory known as “Austrian Economics” and a professor at Ohio University. Vedder has publicly said, “we don’t need labor unions.” He also says the American “obsession with equality is very destructive for the human race….[for we] need to … celebrate the existence of enormously wealthy individuals.”
ALEC certainly practices what it preaches. According to Joel Rogers and Laura Dresser’s article in the Nation, ALEC’s “fiercest attacks [last year] were reserved for public sector unions…. ALEC has a sweeping range of model antiunion laws, the broad aim of which is to make it harder to be a union and easier for workers not to pay the costs of collective bargaining or union political activity. The Right to Work Act eliminates employee obligation to pay the costs of collective bargaining; the Public Employee Freedom Act bars almost any action to induce it; the Public Employer Payroll Deduction Act bars automatic dues collection; the Voluntary Contribution Act bars the use of dues for political activity. [Last spring] GOP governors or legislatures introduced at least 500 of these and other ALEC-inspired anti-labor laws, including laws to restrict the scope of collective bargaining; to limit or eliminate “project labor agreements” and state “prevailing wage” requirements; and to pre-empt local living wage or other labor standards.”
Funding for ALEC comes from some of America’s biggest corporations which pay as much as $50,000 a year to participate in drafting ALEC’s model legislation. Anheuser-Busch, AOL, AT&T, Bayer, BNSF Railway, BP, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Chevron, Comcast Cable, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Duke Energy, EBay, Eli Lilly, Entergy, Express Scripts, ExxonMobil, FedEx, GE, GM, GlaxoSmithKline, Honeywell, International Paper, Koch Companies Public Sector, Medco Health Solutions, Merck, Microsoft, Novartis, Occidental Petroleum, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Reynolds American, Shell, Sprint, State Farm, T-Mobile, Time Warner Cable, UPS, Verizon, VISA, Walgreens, Wellpoint, Western Union and Yahoo! are among its members.
Recently ALEC has lost some corporate support when newspaper articles appeared naming it the leading force supporting “Stand Your Ground” legislation and efforts to legislatively limit voter turn- out in the presidential election. New York State Senator Maziarz introduced “Stand Your Ground” legislation in 2008 but after Florida teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, it is unlikely that the bill will go forward even though Maziarz refuses to withdraw it. Florida’s "Stand Your Ground" law will likely be Zimmerman’s main defense at his trial.
ALEC’s effort to suppress voter turn-out in the upcoming election has unfortunately been very effective. According to “Defending Democracy” a report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, “fourteen states have enacted twenty-five legal measures that will unfairly and unnecessarily restrict the right to vote and exact a disproportionate price on African-Americans and other voters of color. Dozens more restrictions have been proposed nationwide, in a coordinate assault on voting rights.” These measures include laws, which will prohibit a citizen from voting unless he or she has a government issued photo ID. About 5 million eligible voters are expected to be disenfranchised. And, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, because “25% of African Americans (over 6.2 million African-American voters) and 16% of Latinos (over 2.96 million Latino voters) do not possess valid photo ID” the impact of this effort will be to increase the proportion of white voters voting in the election because only 8% of white voters are estimated to be without a current government-issued photo ID. According to the NAACP, “[m]any of these bills were modeled on legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – a conservative advocacy group whose founder explained: ‘our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.’”
Because organizations representing the African-American and Latino communities threatened to boycott their products for supporting such outrageous legislation, recent corporate defectors from ALEC have included Amazon, Best Buy, BlueCross Blue Shield, Coca-Cola, CVA Caremark, Dell Computers, GM, Hewlett-Packard, John Deere, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, MillerCoors, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Walgreens, Wall-Mart, and Wendy’s. While ALEC claims these corporate defections are the result of an “intimidation campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists,” it shut down the internal task force responsible for designing its legislative campaign against democracy. A small number of legislative members have also resigned, but none from New York have publicly done so.
In perhaps ALEC’s most audacious effort to date to remake our American government, ALEC is circulating a “handbook” explaining to state legislators about how they can call for a Constitutional Convention. Should two-thirds of the state legislatures pass resolutions calling for it, Congress is required under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to call a Constitutional Convention into session with delegates having the power to propose amendments. This procedure has never been used in our nation’s history to amend the Constitution and many fear a run-a-way convention could strike at the very heart of our freedoms. Were it not for ALEC being well funded by corporate elites and supported by a third of state legislators, ALEC’s call for a Constitutional Convention would be easily dismissed as a crack-pot scheme. But unfortunately, if working people are to have rights, if the labor movement is to survive, if we are to have a just society that does more than just celebrate the existence of the wealthy, if “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” is not to “perish from the earth,” we must each stop for a moment this Labor Day and reflect upon the challenges and what each of us and our unions can do to defend against the right-wing’s war on workers and our democracy.
Larry Cary is a managing partner of Cary Kane LLP, a labor law firm located in New York City.