Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
Red State lawmakers have been systematically stripping away labor and wage standards, according to a new research report. Report:
There’s a movement to unwind state wage and labor standards:
Rules have been enacted to prevent minimum wage hikes and
mandated paid sick leave, while others have made it harder to recover
unpaid wages or collect unemployment benefits.
“This is coordinated and national,” the report’s author,
University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer, said during a Thursday
morning panel unveiling the report.
It was produced for the Economic Policy Institute, which focused on
the needs of low- and middle-income workers, and where Lafer is a
The paper explores a series of free-market policies pursued
or enacted in 2011 and 2012. Four states limited the minimum wage or at
least to whom it applied, another four made it easier for children to
work and 16 imposed new limits on unemployment benefits.
Some states pursued legislation that would make it harder
for employees to collect overtime or recover wages that hadn’t been
paid. And others also passed or pursued laws that restricted the rights
of local governments to set their own standards. In Florida, for
example, an Orange County movement to require paid sick leave was
quashed when the state passed a law prohibiting counties and cities from
enacting such measures.
The report represents a shift from EPI’s typically wonky
fare. It ascribes a narrative, supported by research, to a recent policy
trend: wage and labor deregulation, driven by the agenda of a set of
national pro-business groups.
“The most powerful corporate lobbies in the country are
working across the country in every state legislature and on almost
every dimension of the labor market to lower wages and benefits,” Lafer
said on Thursday.
Those groups include the pro-business Chamber of Commerce,
National Association of Manufacturers, the Club for Growth, Americans
for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council. That last
group, ALEC, has played a particularly significant role, he says.
ALEC, a non-profit that advocates for free markets and
limited government, provides a library of model legislation for its
nearly 2,000 lawmaker-members to use and modify. It also counts nearly
300 corporations and foundations as members, though several have left as
the organization came under fire in recent years.
“In many cases, ALEC pursues initiatives that directly
benefit the bottom line of its corporate partners,” Lafer wrote in the
* * *
Lafer’s report, the culmination of about a year and a half of research,
outlines a broad state-by-state effort to deregulate and unwind various
labor and wage standards. The 79-page report, much of it dedicated to
its more than 300 endnotes, focused exclusively on laws and bills
drafted or strongly endorsed by pro-business groups.
Then there are the Tea-Publican state legislators who are members of ALEC waging this war against working class Americans. Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, writes today The tea party’s assault on workers:
For all the debate on the effects of the tea party's and the Republican
party's march to the far right at the federal level, it’s their impact
at the state level that will probably be with us the longest.
Back in 2010, 11 states — [Arizona], Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan,
Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — put
Republicans in control of all branches of state government. Other states
saw their center of gravity move much farther to the right. And in the
years since, those states have pushed an all-out conservative agenda.
Some elements of this this fight are well-covered and understood, particularly on voting rights and abortion . . .
Less well-covered has been the assault on workers' rights as part of a
coordinated, strategic, national and ideological program. There’s been
excellent coverage of efforts by individual state legislatures,
particularly efforts to roll back unionization for public-sector workers
in Wisconsin and Michigan. But there hasn’t been a solid overview of
how all these efforts hang together and how extensive and coordinated
That has changed with a remarkable paper by the University of Oregon’s Gordon Lafer for the Economic Policy Institute, titled "The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012."
Lafer documents how extensive anti-labor efforts have been with the
wave of newly conservative state governments, and he paints a picture of
the forest that arises out of all these anti-labor trees.
As Lafer documents:
Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage,
four lifted restrictions on child labor, and 16 imposed new limits on
benefits for the unemployed. With the support of the corporate lobbies,
states also passed laws stripping workers of overtime rights; repealing
or restricting rights to sick leave; and making it harder to sue one’s
employer for race or sex discrimination, and easier to deny employees’
rights by classifying them as 'independent contractors.'
These states also fought laws pertaining to sick leave, workplace safety standards and, as mentioned above, time for work meals.
So what should people draw from these actions? What extends across specific states to a general, nationwide, ideological agenda?
First, this isn’t just about public-sector workers, a subject that
has long sparked political battles. These recent efforts are actually
focused just as much, if not much more, on private-sector workers who
aren’t in a union. Efforts to roll back everything from minimum wage
laws to unemployment insurance affects everyone who works for a wage,
and this is where the coordination across states has been particularly
It’s also not just a matter of tighter state budgets. This is crucial
to understanding the situation. For instance: 2011 saw the largest
one-year decline in the number of state-level public-sector workers
since records start in 1955. But the Republican-governed states that
were most aggressive in laying off state workers had some of the
smallest budget deficits.
The 11 states that went all-Republican in 2010, plus Texas, account for 70 percent of public-sector layoffs.
Yet those states account for only 12.5 percent of the aggregate state
budget gap. The most aggressive efforts to roll back public-sector
workers were in places with strong funding of pensions, like Wisconsin.
And rather than cutting services simply to bring their states into
solvency, many of these conservative states immediately tried to cut
taxes afterward. Arizona, for example, cut health services and
education, eliminated its state-funded pre-kindergarten program, and then immediately cut corporate taxes and commercial property taxes. Texas is moving to do the same things.
Crucially, as Lafer emphasizes, this isn’t about what we colloquially
refer to as “conservative values.” Rather than rolling back the state,
tea party Republicans are calling for extensive observation and
disciplining of unemployed people.
* * *
And for all the conservative talk about making programs as local as
possible, what is often referred to as "subsidiarity" or "devolution,"
that principle is ignored when it comes to repealing labor protections.
Many conservative states have pushed laws designed to override
localities that seek to create or increase their minimum wages,
prevailing wages, living wages or mandatory sick days. Given that many
states have big cities where more extensive labor protections exist,
this matters for many people.
As Lafer points out, this agenda is being pushed by a combination of
traditional business lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce and the
National Association of Manufacturers, in conjunction with ideological
organizational groups like the Club for Growth and Americans for
Prosperity. Organizing middlemen groups like ALEC coordinate the
legislative approach. This kind of approach is exactly what was called
for in the Powell Memo, and as intellectual historian Jason Stahl notes, was always the purpose of conservative think tanks like Heritage.
As Lafer summarizes, conservative governments pushed changes that
“undermine the wages, working conditions, legal protections, or
bargaining power of either organized or unorganized employees.” The
conditions that emerge from these states will determine the day-to-day
lives of people living in red states, and will be with us for decades.
How liberals and labor respond will be equally important.
These far-right radical extremists will not be satisfied until they have repealed the advances of the 20th Century and returned this country to the abject financial inequality of the Gilded Age in which the robber barons of America's largest corporations controlled all political and economic power. They want to impose serfdom on American workers, in a regressive Age of Neo-feudalism corporatocracy.